|Planning Time||2 - 4 weeks|
Although tabling has been mentioned in connection with some events (e.g. student activities fair or Ask an Atheist Day), there are a wide variety of times when it is useful. Tabling in the weeks before an event can promote it and get people interested in coming. New or expanding groups will want to table in order to attract members with a cold sell - not always effective, but it can steadily raise interest and increase your membership. Since the goal is to attract a large number of eyeballs, and keep many of those eyeballs at attention, prepare to be looked over by a few hundred to several thousand people, depending on the size of your school.
The more professional-looking you want your table, the more planning needs to go into it, especially if you're ordering a banner or literature. You'll also need to reserve the table space on campus, usually that's done in the Registered Student Organization office, or similar. That said, getting everything together should take 2 to 4 weeks. Since tabling is most effective at the beginning of the semester, when people are looking for something to do, you may want to get a jump on planning before a semester break.
There are three key tasks to getting a table ready: reserving a time and location, obtaining tabling materials, and scheduling volunteers. 1 or 2 coordinators should be able to handle this - since it's a fairly simple activity, it may be a good idea to get a potential leader to spearhead this. 1 to 3 volunteers should always be at the table. We don't recommend having more than 3 people at the table because it's starts to become intimidating for new people to approach.
The first, and obvious, requirement is a table. Your university will probably be able to provide one, either at the venue itself or somewhere nearby. Banners are highly visible and powerfully get your name out. If you make a banner, be sure the lettering is visible 10-20 feet away. Tabling literature takes on a variety of forms, and can include fliers, pamphlets, business cards, stickers, brochures, and literature from secular organizations. You may want to invest in a plastic stand to hold brochures/fliers, which can save space and make you look more professional. A display board, decorated with photos and information about your group, can work wonders. Don't forget a clipboard, pens and pre-printed sign-up sheets for people to write down their names and emails!
Make sure that everything on your table is organized nicely. Your meeting time & location, as well as a facebook page and contact email, should be prominently displayed. Don't drown the table in materials or words, however; excessive verbiage will probably turn people off.
For more tips on the specifics of running a successful table, see our Tabling Resource.
Tabling is a form of promotion in itself. However, you can give a heads up to members who might not come to your weekly meetings by announcing it in your group email list.
- Within your group, establish a goal for your tabling. If you just want to attract members, you'll need to table as early in the semester as possible. Sometimes you will want to table in response to recent events, either campus events or larger-scale happenings. In this case, you'll need to tailor your table to fit the occasion.
- Solicit volunteers to table. The best times to table are when there is a lot of foot traffic through your part of campus, but, problematically, many of your members may be busy then. Make sure that your tabling times work with volunteers' schedules, and rotate so that members will only spend an hour or two at a time.
- Contact your student activities department, or whoever is in charge of reserving space. Have a clear idea of what times and dates will work, and look for possible alternatives. For instance, if Wednesdays bring a lot of people on campus, but Fridays don't, try and secure a Wednesday, even if you have to push the date of tabling back a week.
- Be sure to table in a high-traffic area - if you're shunted off into a corner, tabling just won't work.
- Tabling is more effective if you do it for consecutive days, rather than in dribs and drabs over a period. Schedule a block of time for a few days running.
- Get tabling materials. Here are only a few ways to get some:
- The SSA may be able to provide tabling supplies - email our campus organizer
- Many freethought organizations will be happy to send you literature at low or no cost. Contact SSA at least 3 or 4 weeks ahead of time and we can help coordinate this. Give us an idea of what material you need, from what organizations, and how many people you're expecting.
- The SSA can also help you get free business cards for your group
- Banners are available at a reasonable price here.
- Contact local nonreligious groups and ask if they have anything you can borrow or use.
- Your display board, as a presentation of what your group is about, needs to be attractive and informative. Make sure it includes your group's meeting time and location, as well as photos of your group doing fun and exciting activities!
Talking points are a great resource for any media appearance or public event - they help to focus your thinking and clarify your message. Ideally, come up with about three points to emphasize and repeat - you should elaborate on them, but don't stray from your message!
Print out a FAQ guide to have at the table for quick reference.
- Before tabling, make sure all of your volunteers know basic information about your group, and give them tips on how to run the table. Many good ideas are in your Group Running Guide's section on tabling.
- Set up your table a little early - if you're still setting up when people get out of class, they won't see your message. If you have fliers, stick them up around the area you're tabling in. This will concentrate, and thus enhance, your message.
- After you're done, pack up and clean up. Many tabling supplies (esp. banners and display boards) can be reused, so find a place to store them - your student union may offer storage space for recognized clubs.
- Be sure to thank your volunteers and coordinators!
One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!