This is the third in a series of H+ Magazine articles on local transhumanist clubs and organizations. For more about why local communities are important and how they can improve your life, see the first article, Building and Growing Transhumanist Communities.
In addition to informing people about ideas associated with your group’s themes, speeches and similar events are a group’s primary means of outreach – attracting people from outside the group to join. You should try to host at least one significant event for every six months of activity (at least two per year if at all possible).
Always have an information table at your events, and mention it in your introduction at the beginning of the event (if a speaker has a book, CD, or DVD, you also can mention that you are selling it at your information table; try to coordinate with a bookstore to carry a speaker’s book as well). The critical component of any information table is the information sign-up sheets, which help induce people to become meeting attendees and potentially group members. Additionally, you can include on the table printed material from relevant websites, a list of possible discussion and event topics, any relevant books or materials sent by Humanity+, related information, and items to sell or give away (fliers, pamphlets, buttons, stickers, or pens). Always try to staff an information table with at least two people, which can make the group look more populous and attractive.
Beyond especially large group discussions, the simplest large-scale events are single speeches. If someone famous you know is willing to deliver a speech relevant to your group’s themes, that could cut down considerably on the costs associated with travel and lodging. Generally though, unless the speaker is famous or well known and loved locally, you can expect a small turn-out for such events (a larger turnout might be expected of a panel discussion involving several speakers). A speech given by a random group member can only be expected to attract an audience the size of a regular discussion meeting or two, unless it is part of a larger event.
Beyond capable speakers in the local transhumanist group in your city, you should consider higher-profile people who can speak about a theme of interest. The best speech topics are provocative and controversial, as those are most likely to attract the attention of people outside your group, including media attention. Use your preferred topic themes to narrow down your list of prospective speakers, then contact speakers (starting with the one you are most interested in) about bringing them to your city. Tell the speaker what theme(s) you would like to hear about, and ask her what topics she has prepared or could have prepared by a given date. Hopefully, you can find a mutually agreeable topic – try to be open to a different one than the one you originally intended.
Now you need to make arrangements with your speaker. Initiate the process as early as possible; it may take months to negotiate the speaker’s schedule (and possibly flight and accommodations) and any other event-related happenings, and reserve the space you want – and then you need a couple weeks to promote it. Stay in touch with the speaker throughout the process, and be sure to ask her whether she wants any additional resources some weeks prior to the event.
Some speakers, especially very famous ones, have public relations professionals you will need to work with to host the event. Allow them to take the lead, and try to meet their requests. Also, be sure to thank them and their company at the event (you might also include their business cards on the information table), as that is an opportunity for them to promote their services. Also, it often is cheaper for you to “piggyback” big-name speakers at your engagement when they are already speaking at a nearby location.
Choose an event location that is on or near your city’s downtown and has all the features needed, e.g. adequate but not excessive seating capacity (which could make it look like there is no audience), along with media presentation tools like projection screens. Never hold an event near holidays, popular vacation days, or other competing big events, due to low expected turnout. The evening is the best time to hold events – starting after people are out of work and school and have eaten, but ending before they need to go to bed (e.g. starting 6:30 to 8:00, ending 7:30 to 9:30). Try to keep the event free for attendees, and get money from other sources.
Have your President or Vice President deliver the speaker’s introduction. Ask the speaker at least a couple weeks beforehand how they want to be introduced, getting all relevant credentials, books they have authored, etc.
At the end of the speech, announce there will be 10, 15, or 20 minutes for questions and answers. At the end of that time, announce that there will be time for a last question, and then thank the speaker for coming to your event.
B. Panel Discussions
Panel Discussions involve more than two speakers sharing a stage and answering questions from a moderator, who adds additional comments where appropriate. To minimize booking hassles, it would be easiest to persuade local notables to take part in addressing some controversial, provocative issue. Try to gather people with distinct sets of views on the topic, as conflicting (informed) opinions make for a more entertaining event. Pick a discussion moderator who can balance speaking time for the discussants impartially, whether or not she is personally biased on any of the issues addressed. Consider asking your fair-minded, levelheaded friends to moderate (you might decide to allow the moderator to express opinions, as long as she is fair to those with differing ones). Panel discussions are a good opportunity to encourage audience participation, asking questions to the panel and making comments.
Debates can be a bit complicated to arrange, because in addition to booking two qualified debaters, you need to get mutual agreement on the topic and question(s), as well as the format and rules. You also need to effectively match the speakers by skill and experience; your favored side should be as capable and prepared as the other, but it’s no fun for the audience to watch a strawman opponent get defeated; typically, local notables are outmatched by professional debaters. Other, non-transhumanist organizations have whole kits on setting up and managing debates, as well as lists of debaters and subjects they are prepared to debate on. For now, don’t jump into a debate format before you have experience coordinating speeches, and take any guidance you can get from experienced debaters on how to set up a successful event.
D. Summits and Conferences
A one-day summit or a weekend conference is a significant undertaking, but with support from former conference organizers in your organization’s network, as well as locally based organizations or groups, they are feasible to host. You will need at least one and possibly more event spaces, food and possibly lodging for attendees, and possibly compensation for big-name speakers (and again, you may need to work with their public relations professionals). It would be wise to make such an event the exclusive focus of a long chunk of time, aside from discussion and planning meetings, to avoid over-burdening your group leaders. You should try to make the event free for people who help organize and staff it, as well as for any early volunteers who do the same. The event also should be free for any of its speakers. Needless to say, conferences are an excellent opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and garner major media coverage.
Advertising and Publicity
Advertising events is best undertaken as a group activity, as you can reach more people in less time that way. While one person (often the President) will create and possibly print flyers, all active group members should be encouraged to help distribute the advertising materials. The labor can be made more fun by working across the city as a group to hit most of the advertising locations, and then meeting somewhere afterward as a reward for the work.
Flyers are one primary format for advertising events you host, as well as your group’s website, and its regular discussion meeting time and location. Although you can type a flyer in Word, Microsoft Publisher will make it easier for you to add or create graphics. Print a provocative title, very concise (1-2 sentence) description that makes a short appeal for why someone should want to attend, and whether the event is free, all in a large, bold font that can ideally be read from five feet away. Insert one or two graphics to make your flyer stand out from the rest on bulletin boards, or use other tricks (e.g. make part of the flyer have a black background and white font, if you can afford the ink). It is a good idea to print your club’s web address, regular meeting time and place, and group contact info in smaller letters at the bottom of the flyer. Generally, it also is a good idea to print your flyers on brightly colored paper if you can afford it. Certain venues may require that all flyers display a special stamp of approval. Post flyers about events a month ahead of time, and then repost flyers two weeks to a week ahead of time.
A relatively cheap version of flyers for rapid and widespread dissemination (by hand, taped on the backs of auditorium chairs, etc.) is “flyerlets” or handbills taking up an area of one-fourth of a page. In Publisher or Word, you can create a page with the same content in the same format appearing in each of the four quadrants of the page. You may not have space to add a graphic, and your text will need to be smaller. To keep costs down, you can use plain white paper. Just neatly cut your pages along the quadrant edges, and you will have four times the number of advertisements relative to the cost of flyers. With permission, you can attach such flyerlets to the backs of every third chair in the auditorium you will be using, so that people who go there will know when the event will be held. From two days before the event to the day of the event, you and other willing group members can pass out the flyerlets to people in high foot-traffic areas during meal times, or times when the area is heavily populated. Be sure to target areas where the people you reach will be most likely to be interested, e.g. a science center for a science lecture; and areas where the people will be most likely to come, e.g. generally near the venue location, as people there will know how to find it.
Chalk, white or brightly colored, is a tool you can employ to draw attention to your event name, speaker(s), location, time and date (some cities do not allow chalk, check first). It is much easier for you or cleaning crews to clean up than flyers taped to the ground. Be sure to use chalk in areas that will be washed by the rain, so that a grounds crew does not need to hose it down. An advantage of using chalk is that you can make your letters much larger than would fit on a single flyer. Again, seek out high traffic areas to create your minimalist chalk messages. Chalk your messages at least two weeks prior to the date of the event, and if it rains, re-chalk once the ground is dry.
Posters also allow you to print letters larger than would fit in a flyer, but it may be hard for you to locate an area where you can post your poster. The same general principles apply as applied to flyers. One place where posters may be deemed appropriate is in windows, but they may be hard to read from the street. If you have access to a designated area of a building, set a poster up there.
H. Press Releases
Issuing a press release is a good idea for big, significant events. Send it to various newspapers and other media outlets, including campus media. Don’t issue press releases for minor events. In the release, offer concise, relevant information to answer general questions regarding the event, and “so what?” (why should it matter to the public?). Include your E-mail, phone number, group website address, and a concise description of your group. At least two weeks before the event, try to send an E-mail copy and a “physical copy” of your press release to the appropriate editor addresses. Call and E-mail each media outlet close to the event date, to ask if they are covering it. These links offer templates for press releases.
If you are interested in starting a transhumanist group or holding a transhumanist event, contact Humanity+ at firstname.lastname@example.org!
This article was adapted by Tom McCabe for H+ Magazine, from the Humanity+ Student Advocate Guide.