Guide to Running an Event

Updated 17th March 2020

This section was compiled from LEAN and tips from local organisers.

This guide primarily relates to logistical considerations before, during and after a small or medium-sized public events, such as discussion groups, workshops, and socials. It contains tips on how to make events accessible and welcoming, ways to follow up with newcomers and get them more engaged, and other related suggestions.

For running conferences and retreats please click here, for general tips on how to ensure your community is healthy and happy, go here.


Types of Events

The most common EA events are Discussion Groups and Socials, but there are a wide variety of events you could run.

See the EA Event Types Spreadsheet for a list of event types containing information on event characteristics, preparation, ideal audiences, group types and required skills and resources. The spreadsheet also links to further resources on most event types. This list is a work in progress so please feel free to add comments.

Purpose of an Event

There are many different possible purposes for an event. When planning events, it helps to have the purpose clear so you are more likely to achieve that aim.

The Art of Gathering” contains excellent advice on choosing a purpose, and has tips on how this will affect your planning - check out these notes about “The Art of Gathering” for a summary.

Some options for a purpose could be:

  • Moving people down the funnel of engagement in EA. Your event could facilitate one or more of these transitions:

    • Moving people from “audience” to “followers” - outreach to people who haven’t heard of EA before.
    • Moving people from “followers” to “participants” - e.g. holding events that help new people become more knowledgeable about EA.
    • Moving people from “participants” to “contributors” - by providing support for people to conduct projects, volunteer, attend conferences, or make significant commitments.
    • Moving people from “contributors” to “core” - assisting people with their career plans or getting more deeply involved in EA organisations.
  • Enjoyment and bonding

  • Make progress on an issue (e.g. the event could involve group members working on a project, or fundraising)

Planning Steps

  1. Decide the purpose/s
  2. Decide who the target audience is, and how best to reach them. You could have a public event and aim to attract your target audience by how you describe the event, or where you advertise the event. Or you could choose to make the event private.
  3. Choose an idea for the event. If the event has a topic, read up on it in advance. You can get some event ideas in the “Events” page.
  4. Choose (and book if necessary) an appropriate venue and time.
    a. Even for casual events, have an “official” end time to mark the expected time people are likely to start leaving. If possible, allow for people to hang around afterwards if they wish to continue discussions.
    b. If you decide to host a more formal or structured event, budget time for attendees to talk after an event, and consider encouraging this by offering refreshments. More information on venues here.
  5. Plan food and drink for the event, if applicable. More information on food and drink here.
  6. Publicise the event on social media and mailing list about 2 weeks in advance (or longer for large events). It helps to have a professional-looking image for your event: Sample graphics are available here.
  7. Send a reminder message out a day or two in advance of the event.
  8. Assign volunteer roles if needed.
  9. Decide if and how you will get feedback.
  10. Gather equipment and resources you will need for the event (see the checklist below for some ideas).

Volunteer roles

Ask co-organisers or volunteers to help out, especially if you are expecting several new people to come to the event. Note that most, if not all, of these roles could be done by the same person.

  • Greeter/usher - Useful for larger events or when it is hard to find the room.
  • New person contact - This person can keep an eye out for any new people and make sure they are welcomed to the group, and invited into conversations with people they might find interesting to talk to. They can also ask the new person if they would like to sign up for other things the group offers, e.g. sign up for the mailing list or make time for a one-on-one. New person contacts may find the page on communicating about EA helpful.
  • Jargon catcher - The jargon catcher can ask the speaker to explain the jargon e.g. “Can you explain what “DALY” means?”, or they can explain it themselves. This can be useful in small group conversations as well as in casual presentations.
  • Discussion moderator - Depending on the event this could involve selecting people to ask questions of the guest speaker so that the guest speaker doesn’t have to choose people, or in a more casual discussion this could involve asking the opinions of quieter people, or redirecting the conversation if it seems to be heading in a less useful direction. Discussion moderators might find the page “Tips on Running Discussion Groups” helpful.
  • Attendance and feedback - This role will depend on what your group has decided to measure but could include kindly asking people to put on name tags, count or write names of attendees, and handing out and collecting feedback forms. More information on tracking the impact of your event is here.
  • Drinks and snacks organiser - This role involves obtaining and putting out all the refreshments and ensuring everything is cleaned up afterwards.

Before the event

Check out this resource about making groups welcoming and check that your event is considering as many of these factors as possible.

For smaller events, arrive about 20-30 minutes early to set up signs, audio-visual equipment, refreshments and troubleshoot any issues. For larger/more formal events (25+ attendees) try to arrive approximately an hour in advance to set up.

For all events, remember to be visible by putting up signs to direct people to the event. Having large banners (samples available here) outside of the venue works very well. If you’re in a public space, tell the bartender/cafe owner/front of shop where you are if anyone asks for the ‘effective altruism group’, and have some EA related objects visible. Some group organisers wear EA t-shirts, others place an EA sign on the table or have some EA books sitting on the table.

Create a checklist of things to bring and tasks to do, shared with co-organisers.

Items to bring checklist

We recommend you make your own list of things to bring that would be specific to your group and the venues you are using. Go through the list before you leave home for each event.

Here are some things you might want on your list.

  • Signs or banners with your group name, and tape/pins/ blue tack. Sample signs can be found here.
  • Clipboard with a pen, or a tablet, for people to add contact information if they are new (example contact information sheet)
  • Sign in sheet if you are taking attendance (some Universities require registered groups to do this)
  • Blank stickers for name tags and permanent markers (name tags are great for facilitating conversations and connections, and particularly good for people who aren’t good with names or faces).
  • Laptop, charger and dongle if needed to attach to the data projector if you are using one.
  • Presentation on USB (in case something goes wrong with your laptop)
  • Clicker to advance slides (if you have one and are doing a presentation).
  • Drinks, snacks, and any dishes or cutlery needed to prepare, eat and drink.
  • If presenting a topic, you may want to have topic fact sheets, if doing an activity, you may want worksheets and pens.

    • Most people with dyslexia find a sans-serif font easier than a serif font.
    • Ideally have any printed materials in digital text format also, so you can email them to anyone with vision impairment so they can use a screen reader.
  • If collecting physical feedback forms: Plenty of pens and copies of feedback forms (example here) .

  • If you have some available, bring copies of EA books such as Doing Good Better to loan out or give to people who seem truly interested in reading them. CEA has a short guide on this.

  • Brochures about EA to hand to new people (sample brochures here)

  • For an introduction to EA, you may wish to have flyers with links relevant to the event. 

Feedback and Tracking

Think about how you will measure the success of your events - what worked, what didn’t, etc. This could become useful information not just for yourself but for other groups.

For larger events, you may wish to print short surveys in advance and have people fill them out at the end of the event. Survey responses can be very valuable information but can carry a social cost (especially if your attendees are new to EA as most groups don’t get people to fill out surveys, and some people find surveys annoying). Use your intuition to work out what would be appropriate. An example of a feedback form is here.

For smaller events you can contact people more personally via email, or ask them in person for feedback at the end of an event. Debrief with co-organisers after an event about what went well or poorly (although try to keep it positive if people are tired or put a lot of effort into an event!)

Write down a brief summary of what happened within a day of the event, while it’s fresh in your memory - what went well, what went wrong, any informal feedback you got, and advice for next time. You can brainstorm ways to improve this at your next organiser meeting.

Some organisers also choose to keep a track of the number of people, the methods of advertising used, and for smaller groups, the names of people that came.

Starting the Event

Greet people as they arrive, help them feel welcome, and offer them a name tag (remind them it’s optional, and they can be anonymous if they wish).

People can casually chat before the event officially starts, which should be about 5 to 10 minutes after the set start time. If you need to take attendance (e.g. if your University requires it), pass around a sign-up sheet, and make sure everyone fills it out.

If it’s a small event (~10 or less people), you could do a round of ice-breakers. Example ice breakers include asking people to give a short one sentence description of their priority cause areas, or the most interesting thing they’ve read or seen recently. Remember to keep ice breakers brief and remind people they can come back to a topic after the introductions are over.

If there are new people attending you may wish to give a very short talk about what EA is before the main content of the event (see this guide on communicating about EA for ideas of what to say, or these sample introductory talks).

If you have a guest speaker, have a prepared introduction, but keep it short.

How To Manage Group Dynamics

This section deals with normal issues that arise with any group of people having a discussion. For more advice on running discussions see the section on running discussion groups. To learn how to deal with more serious disruptions, please see this guide.

In general

  • Split big groups into smaller groups of 3-5 to enable more participation
  • If you don’t have an explicit discussion agenda, figure out what people are interested in and see if you can split the group into discussing different topics.

    • For example, “I heard some interest in how effective altruism got started—if people want to come to this side of the room, we’ll be talking about that here. I also heard interest in existential risk—Maya, could you anchor a discussion over there on that topic?”
  • Use people’s names often so others will be reminded, specifically if you don’t have name tags. This also helps people bond.

  • Some people will come for the laughter and the friendship. It’s okay to let the conversation drift off topic for a bit, but keep in mind that people are busy and have come for the effective altruism, so don’t let it go on a tangent for too long, especially if your event had a specific topic. You can bring the conversation back on topic by:

    • Saying “Anyway… leading back to our original topic…” or “So… how might that be relevant to . “
    • When there is a pause in the conversation, ask a question about the original topic.
    • Commenting on what people have said, then ask what another person thinks about the original conversation topic.
  • Seek out people who seem sidelined or unsure and ask if they have questions or what they want to talk about. Of course, they may just not feel like talking, so don’t force it.

New people

  • Ensure new people feel welcomed by assigning a friendly member of the group talk to them, listen to their interests, and introduce them to other people in the group.
  • Make sure that everyone is involved and understands what is going on.
  • You could ask new people over to a part of the room at the start of a social event, to give an introductory explanation of EA, and get people chatting.
  • Make sure to introduce yourself and anyone in a conversation with new people before you begin.
  • Try to avoid jargon and acronyms, and when they come up explain it rather than making new people guess or ask. You could designate “jargon catchers” who keep an ear out for jargon.
  • Keep an eye out when people who have very different interests or levels of knowledge are talking to each other. E.g. if one person has never heard of EA before, and is looking freaked-out in a conversation with a hard-core AI enthusiast, you might join the conversation and ask the newcomer what they’re interested in, find out if they have questions, or steer them toward another conversation partner.

How to interact with a shy person

  • Don’t push them to say anything, they may not want to, or may feel uncomfortable talking to the group.
  • When they first say anything, respond positively, not with criticism.
  • If someone is hanging out at the edge of a conversation and looking occasionally at the people in the conversation, ask them what their thoughts are. They might be trying to get into the conversation but don’t know how.

How to deal with people dominating the conversation

  • Jump into the gap when the person takes a breath and say “That’s an interesting thought [person]. What do you think, [less assertive conversationalist]?”
  • Try to draw others in (“Dev, I wanted to hear more about what you were saying a minute ago”).
  • If there are two people who are dominating a conversation and the other people don’t seem interested, suggest breaking up the group by suggesting another conversation topic, and move interested people to another part of the room.

How to deal with someone talking about a topic no one else is interested in

  • You may want to designate a person to take them aside and let them talk about the topic so everyone else can have a more varied conversation.
  • If this is a recurring problem with a single person (and a single topic), it may help to have a quiet word with the person one-on-one to point out the benefits of having a variety of conversation topics, and to gently ask them to allow other conversation topics to flow. How to deal with ideological and psychological diversity
  • People with a wide variety of ideologies can be interested in effectively improving the world. However, in the EA community there is a particularly large group of people interested in similar things, such as maths, computer science, philosophy (especially utilitarianism), and that sometimes makes the conversations less interesting or accessible for people without that background.
  • Julia Wise has some excellent advice on dealing with this.

At the end of the event

  • Thank everyone for coming along. If you have a guest speaker, thank them publicly and afterwards.
  • Ask for feedback if you have chosen to do this.
  • Create anticipation for the next event. Even if you don’t have a fixed plan for the next event, you can let people know that there will be more events coming up.
  • Make sure everyone has a way to get involved and keep in touch in the near future.
  • Leave the venue tidy, making sure there is no belongings left behind and the venue is left in the way it should be (e.g. lights, data projector, and heating/air conditioning off).

After the event

  • You may wish to add the people you met as Facebook friends the next day - it will make it easier to invite to future events and allows them to start conversations or ask you questions.
  • Send an email or message on social media the next day with any relevant useful information for people who attended the event, such as websites or articles that were mentioned.
  • You may wish to send personal emails to people if you mentioned particular articles or other people they might want to talk to.

Further Reading

If you have suggestions on how to improve this page, please comment or suggest edits on this google doc.

This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.