Most universities have a yearly activities fair or freshers' fair where new students go to learn about what extracurricular activities they can get involved with at their uni.
Why do we think it's so important?
- Unique access to many students in one place at one time - much higher student footfall than elsewhere
- Unique attitude held by attendees - they are explicitly looking for new & exciting things to get involved with
- Idea inoculation - how you present your group the first time a student hears about EA could have an outsized influence on how they perceive it going forward
For these reasons, we'd be excited for you to focus on making your activities fair go really well.
We think it makes sense to invest a good chunk of your resources in the first semester towards the fair, since it is so important compared to other events & programs.
Getting a place at the fair
One big failure mode for the activities fair is not being able to have a stall there!
Make sure you find out well in advance (during the summer, the earlier you can find out the better) how spots are secured.
You might also see if there are ways you can get a greater presence at the fair. For example, if the organisers allow you to ask for more than one table, pick the maximum number (if there is a fee associated with this, you should definitely request extra
Also, consider registering multiple societies & using the extra space. In the past, EA Oxford has registered as 'Giving What We Can Oxford' and '80,000 Hours Oxford' as well as 'Effective Altruism Oxford.'
- (Note: If you want to actually run an 80k-branded group, you will need approval from 80k. But you don't need to really run the group in order to register it at your activities fair.)
- It's possible this strategy might get you in trouble with the fair organisers, which could have negative repercussions.
- Exercise caution, and make sure you have a backup plan for what you will say if you're challenged about having extra space.
Another way to get extra space at the fair might be to register as a commercial entity.
- Depending on your fair's rules, layout, and the fees, this could be worth it, since commercial stalls are often larger and allowed to be placed strategically at the highest foot traffic locations.
You'll also want to carefully utilise the space you do have.
- For example, if you're placed on a corner, use the extra 'surface area' to get more contact with oncoming students.
- If you're placed in a non-obvious or hard-to-reach area, consider placing some group leaders elsewhere to direct people to the stall (this might be impossible or make people angry, so again pay attention to norms & listen to feedback).
Preparing a great stall
The physical appearance of your stall can make a big impression.
How exactly you want to present your group should be determined a lot by your sense of the norms & culture at your university, but we think it might be good to appear:
- Well-put-together & tidy
- Clear brand identity & unity of design
- Happy & excited to be there
This usually means having a stall that is clean & not overly cluttered. Get a nice tablecloth in a matching colour, and high-quality banners and/or posters. Have your group leaders wear matching t-shirts with your group's name (see
You'll need to think of a call to action for people who stop at your stall (see below). If this requires laptops or tablets, make sure you have enough being brought by group leaders and make sure you can charge them.
- If you can't scope out the venue beforehand for plug sockets, or you know there are none, consider buying portable battery packs. Packs that can handle laptops are expensive but probably worth it.
- Also make sure you know how to get on the wifi at the location, and have a backup plan if the wifi stops working (mobile hotspot, or a physical backup e.g. pieces of paper for people to write their contact details on).
Preparing your stall also means making sure you know who will man the stall and when
- Make a schedule for your group leaders & communicate clearly with them about where they need to be & when
Physical items to bring & how to acquire them:
- If you can find out in advance how much space you will have to display posters, make sure you have suitably sized posters.
- Use them to advertise your group & potentially one call to action
- Some groups use QR codes for their call to action; we weakly believe that QR codes are worse than digital or physical signup forms e.g. on a laptop, tablet, or clipboard.
- You can get posters from commercial printers, e.g. doxdirect or mixam
- Make sure you can secure your posters!
- Also bring scissors if you're bringing tape
- A plain colour such as white might be preferable
- A good-quality tablecloth is worth investing in, because it has a big effect on how your stall looks overall
- So, if you buy it online, take it out of its packaging before the fair to test how it looks & feels
- Ask your group leaders to bring their own (as many as they have)
- We have sometimes found that the number of signups per minute that we can get is bottlenecked by working laptops or tablets for students to sign up on.
- So, having multiple laptops and tablets seems really worthwhile, because you don't want to miss out on foot traffic.
- If you're planning on bringing laptops, make sure:
- You have a plan for charging them
- Either plug sockets at the venue, or portable chargers
- You can get on the venue's wifi
- If you have custom t-shirts for your group (see ) then bring those - ask your group leaders to wear them, and bring spares in case they forgetOrder EA t-shirts
- Plain EA t-shirts are fine too
- Bring snacks that everyone will like, especially if you have people working long shifts.
- Make sure you know whether there will be a chance to refill water bottles onsite.
- If there isn't, bring lots of bottled water that you can give to your group leaders at the stall.
- It's important to have a backup in case your digital call to action fails
- We suggest bringing paper on which students can write down their emails or other contact details for your call to action
- It's easier if you can hand them a clipboard that they can write on
- We think digital should probably be your default or 'Plan A' because physical signups are lost ~10% of the time due to illegible handwriting
- You might decide you want to give students something they can take away with them, like a flyer or a termcard for your society, or maybe even a bookmark or sticker or something else useful
- Some groups have decided against this because:
- if passers-by have the option of just taking a flyer without talking to you, they will do so, and there are pretty low odds that they'll actually read the flyer - so flyers decrease the chance of engagement for some people
- But we think it's not totally obvious this is overall worse, and leave it to your judgement if you want them
- We think in general that giving away EA books to promising group members is a good idea, so you might think that activities fair is a great chance to give away tons of books
- But, we're less optimistic about book giveaways at activities fairs, for a couple reasons:
- We think the average person who approaches your stall has a lower likelihood of being in our real target audience (altruistically-minded, high latent inclination to EA ideas), so it's 'worse value'
- We have some worries about the optics of giving away books in such high volumes: does it make us look more like missionaries, and devalue the book and/or our brand?
- Some groups bring a bowl of (individually wrapped, vegan or vegetarian) candies to give out
- The thought is that it acts as an incentive to stop and talk to you
- It's not clear to us that this is best, since it seems to somewhat tradeoff on an atmosphere of professionalism.
- Also, it seems possible to get a very high proportion of foot traffic to stop and talk just by asking them a question. People who ignore this engagement don't seem very likely to stop if there's candy.
- But, based on the culture of your group and university, it may work well for you.
- Also, if there isn't a requirement for them to be individually wrapped, then you could e.g. bake cookies, or bring some higher-value food.
Preparing calls to action
One of the most important things your activities fair needs to succeed is a clear, easy, and appealing call to action.
You need to settle on ideally one, maximum two calls to action (CTA)
It needs to be something the person can do right away - so 'attend our first event' is no good, but 'sign up here for our first event' works better.
The other thing your call of action should do is give you the ability to follow up - so getting their email is great, although something like joining a Facebook group could work too.
Our best guess for what your call to action should be:
Sign up to our mailing list to hear about all our events!
But alternatives include:
Sign up for our first event of term here! Sign up for our fellowship here! Sign up to be told about the results of our giving game! Join our Facebook group! Follow us on Instagram!
Once you've settled on one, you need to make it easy and frictionless to carry out.
Let's assume it's a mailing list signup:
Try to work out failure scenarios & avoid them:
Preparing a great pitch
At an activities fair, you will be pitching the concept of EA over and over again.
You'll probably want to practise a good pitch that you can repeat to students who stop at the stall.
However, don't be afraid to deviate from your mental 'script' and update based on how you feel it's being received.
Pitching EA can be hard, because there are a lot of complex ideas, and we don't have one particular pitch we think you should always use. In fact, you probably already know what works well as a group leader.
So, we just have three items of advice:
- You can vary the length of your pitch for the amount of foot traffic you have
- If you have a lot of foot traffic, and a long pitch means you'll miss out on lots of students walking past your stall, then try and keep the time from initial engagement to performing the CTA at no longer than 30 seconds.
- If you have less foot traffic, you can afford to have more of a real 'conversation' with students.
- Your pitch should start with a question, ideally a yes/no question, and you should know what you'll say for either answer
- For example: 'Have you heard of Effective Altruism before'?
- Yes → Great! Where did you hear about it?
- No → Would you like to hear a bit about it now?
- We think this question works well because it elicits buyin to the conversation, and stops you from making an intro pitch to people who already know EA
- If you have more than one group leader manning the stall, make sure you schedule in a time for them to practise their pitch & form a plan for the fair
On the day
- Actively engage as many people as you can
- Stand in front of the stall if you're able, rather than passively behind it
- Try to catch the attention of every student who walks past
- Energy is infectious & appealing, so smile at people, look like you're having a good time & happy to be there
- If you need to do stuff to psych yourself up, do that! Some group organisers we've spoken to would bounce around & dance between conversations to keep their energy feeling high
- This high-energy strategy won't work for everyone, and if you're naturally introverted and quiet, that's okay too
- Activities fairs can be really draining because you are talking to a lot of people and there's not loads of downtime
- Try to get as many of your group leaders to take part as you can, so that you can each have relatively shorter shifts
- Unless you know you have loads of stamina, don't schedule yourself in for more than ~3hrs in a row
- It's good to take breaks to rest & refuel