Tabling is one of the best ways to recruit new members and spread awareness about your organization: it’s cheap (and often free!), straightforward to plan, and a lot of fun. This guide will help you get started with your own tabling event. For information specific to your event, check out our themed tabling guides.
Looking for tips on how to table at an activity fair? Check that out here.
Are you, or a group member, experiencing harassment while tabling? Check out this page on advice on how to deal with that situation.
Five Tabling Basics
1) Be Prepared
Like any other recruiting event, tabling will take some preparation. Ask yourself the following questions a few weeks before the day of your event for a tabling success:
- What are my goals with tabling? Do I want more members, to create awareness, or earn money?
- Do I know my school’s policies regarding tabling and handing out materials, including with food? Do I need to fill out any forms if I will be accepting donations?
- Do I need to reserve the space ahead of time? Is there a table provided for me?
- Did I bring a sign-up sheet, or something to get the contact information from interested students?
- If my tabling event is outside, am I prepared for rain? For sun?
- How many people do I need to work the table at one time? (SSA recommends at least two)?
- Do I have a camera to share memories afterwards, or better yet Brag It Up?
- Are all my members ready for tabling? Should I consider a training session?
- Do my members have an emergency contact list in case circumstances should come up?
- Do I have the information for my members, in case somebody is late, sick, or has a surprise organic chemistry quiz?
- Do I have enough materials to hand out at my event? (No? See #3!)
- Learn how to make your table look approachable.
2) Keep a positive attitude and demeanor
Tabling can be a tough job. You will probably meet at least a couple of people that are wary or downright aggressive towards the secular movement. Others might be frustratingly slow to absorb information. By taking the right approach, you might have an interesting discussion or at least make a good impression. Be patient and friendly, have positive body language, be accommodating, avoid offensive clothing and language, and above all, DON'T YELL (or use too much capslock).
Remember that this is a networking opportunity, and seemingly innocent gestures like wearing a shirt with the worth “atheist” or saying “oh my god!” during an argument could be taken as offensive. Help your volunteers learn to keep their temper, and practice responding to negative reactions. Wait until people are fairly close to your table to initiate conversation, rather than calling across the room. Tabling is for being 100% nice and openminded; keep your arguments for the next Darwin Day debate.
A good technique is to ask people for something with a higher commitment, and then a lower commitment. For example, if you just say "join our group", that's not very exciting and may sound like a big commitment. If you say "We're having a park cleanup next week, can you help for a couple hours?", they may say no but you can follow up with "OK, would you like to be on the email list?". That option is much more appealing. Joining a "community" is much more appealing than joining a "group". So, by asking specific questions like "Can you help us with our next service projects", you demonstrate the values of your community.
For tips on training sessions and what to do if a situation becomes hostile, check out our Tabling Troubles page.
3) Get the right materials
So now you have a table and volunteers that know how to handle the good and the bad. Now all you need to do is keep track of interested people, collect donations, and spread the good word of secularism. Luckily, the SSA will supply you with free tabling materials for your next event, including a banner, brochures, and pens! Just make sure you tell us at least two weeks ahead of time, so we can send you all the materials in advance. It helps if you are branded group, as our supplies will more closely match your group’s information. Here’s a list of other supplies that you’ll want on hand:
- A signup sheet or Excel form! We highly recommend using a Google form.
- Smiling volunteers
- An emergency contact list for your table, with the numbers of available officers, club advisers, the building manager, and other helpful individuals
- Brochures describing your group
- Handouts with your next meeting date, time, and place
- Contact information for your group (maybe with our stylish and free business cards?)
- Relevant literature (especially if you’re doing a themed table)
- Something to collect donations
- Freebies! (these aren’t strictly necessary, but free stuff will go a long way towards attracting an audience)
- A banner or poster with your group name
- Thank you cards for your volunteers or other contributing individuals
4) Table Frequently
The more often you table, the more visible you become on campus and the more members you will recruit! Tabling helps put a face behind the name, and ideally people will be less likely to call you an angry heathen after they’ve meet you. Hopefully, others will become more receptive to your group and individuals that were hesitant to approach you at first will become more comfortable. You can set up a tabling schedule, or make use of campus events such as club fairs or an Open House to table. Additionally, there are a variety of “secular holidays” that give your organization the perfect opportunity to take to the tables. Make sure you have adequate storage space for all your materials if you plan on tabling frequently!
5) Have fun and don’t be afraid to reach out!
Tabling can be a tough gig, but you can start hundreds of conversations and recruit new members with the right preparation and approach. Remember to relax, smile, and put your best foot forward to make the most of your tabling experience. Send us photos of your successful experience at firstname.lastname@example.org, or boast about it on our Brag It Up! form. As always, remember to check your school’s policies, advertise in advance, and keep it cool!
Want more information about tabling? Check out our themed tabling activity guides, or this video from Sarah Maddox and and Ben Blanchard at the 2012 SSA conference.