Guide to Running an Event

Updated 2nd August 2020

This section compiles tips from LEAN and local organisers.

This guide primarily relates to logistical considerations before, during and after small or medium-sized public events such as discussion groups, workshops, and socials. It contains tips on making public events accessible and welcoming, following up with newcomers to promote engagement, and other related suggestions.

Other pages contain information on running conferences and retreats, as well as general tips on building happy, healthy communities.


Types of Events

Although many event types are possible, the most common EA group activities are Discussion Groups and Socials.

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

Purpose of Events

There are many different possible purposes for an event. When planning events, defining your aim helps to achieve it.

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 Model 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” - helping people with career plans or further engagement with 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. Define 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 carefully crafting its description or by advertising in select areas. If you are receiving applications for an event, beware that rejecting applicants can damage your image.
  3. Choose a format for the event (e.g. discussion group, social, retreat, conference, etc.). Read up on relevant topics in advance. You can get some ideas for event formats in the “Events” page.
  4. Choose an appropriate venue and time. Book if necessary.
    a. Even for casual events, define an end time to signal when people will start leaving. If possible, allow people to hang around afterwards if they wish to continue discussions.
    b. If you decide to host a more formal or structured event, set aside time for attendees to talk afterwards. Consider encouraging this by offering refreshments.
  5. Plan food and drink for the event, if applicable.
  6. Publicise the event on social media and mailing lists. Check out the EA Resource Hub’s guide to advertising events.
  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 the equipment and resources you will need. The checklist below offers 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. The same person could do most, if not all, of these roles.

  • 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, make sure they feel welcome, and invite them to conversations with people they might find interesting. Contacts can also ask newcomers if they would like to sign up for other things the group offers such as mailing lists or one-on-ones. The page on communicating about EA may be helpful for people in this role.
  • Jargon catcher - The jargon catcher can ask speakers to explain jargon by saying things like, “Can you explain what “DALY” means?”. Alternatively, they can clarify jargon themselves. Clarifications can be useful in both small group conversations and casual presentations.
  • Discussion moderator - When guest speakers have finished presenting, moderators can select people to ask questions so that the guest speaker doesn’t have to. In more casual discussions, moderators could ask quieter people to share their perspectives and help keep conversations on track. The page “Tips on Running Discussion Groups” may be helpful for people in this role.
  • Attendance and feedback - This role will depend on what your group has decided to measure. It could include politely asking people to wear name tags, counting or writing names of attendees, and handing out and collecting feedback forms. We offer more information on tracking event impact elsewhere.
  • 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 try to consider as many of the factors listed as possible.

For smaller events, arrive about 20-30 minutes early to set up signs, audio-visual equipment, refreshments and troubleshoot any issues. Make sure that the slides are displaying with correct formatting and that audio from computers and microphones is working.

For more formal events or those with more than 25 attendees, try to arrive an hour in advance to set up.

For all events, remember to be visible by putting up direction signs. Having large banners (see our samples) outside of the venue works very well. If you’re in a public space, display EA-related objects and tell the floor-staff where to direct people who ask about the ‘effective altruism group’. Some group organisers wear EA t-shirts, others place EA signs or books on the table.

Create a checklist of things to bring and tasks to do and share it with co-organisers.

Checklist of Items

We recommend you make a list of things to bring that is specific to your group and the venues you use. Go through it before you leave home for each event.

Some things you might want on your list:

  • Signs or banners with your group name and tape, pins, or blue-tack to put them up
  • Tablet or clipboard with a pen for people to add contact information if they are new. Example contact information sheet here
  • Sign-in sheets if you are taking attendance. Some Universities require registered groups to do this
  • Drinks, snacks, dishes and cutlery if applicable

For larger, structured, and formal meetings, consider bringing:

  • Blank stickers for name tags and permanent markers. Name tags are great for facilitating conversations, particularly for those who struggle with names and faces
  • Flyers and brochures for introductory events
  • Topic fact sheets if presenting a topic. Worksheets and pens if doing an activity

    • Most people with dyslexia find a sans-serif font easier than a serif font.
    • Ideally, keep a copy of printed materials in a digital text format. You can email these to vision-impaired people who may prefer to use screen readers.
  • Copies of EA books such as Doing Good Better, if available. CEA has a short guide on loaning out or giving these books away

  • Spare EA t-shirts, stickers, and pins, to wear, sell, or give out

  • Fully charged camera or silenced cell phone for taking pictures

  • Copies of feedback forms and pens if collecting physical feedback forms

If running a presentation, consider bringing:

  • Laptop, charger and dongle for a data projector
  • Presentation on USB in case something goes wrong with your laptop
  • Clicker to advance slides
  • Water for the speaker

Feedback and Tracking

Think about how you will measure the success of your events. What worked and what didn’t work could be useful information for your group and 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 provide excellent information but can leave a poor impression. Be especially wary if your attendees are new to EA, since most groups don’t send out surveys, and some people find them annoying. Use your intuition to work out what would be appropriate.

For smaller events, you can contact people more personally via email, or ask them for feedback in person at the end. When the event is over, debrief with co-organisers about what went well or poorly. Try to stay positive, especially if people are tired or put in a lot of effort!

To avoid forgetting, summarise what happened within a day of the event. Note down 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 track of the number of people, the methods of advertising used, and for smaller groups, the names of people that came.

During the Event

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

Let people chat for five or ten minutes after the set start time. Then officially start the event. If you need to take attendance, as some universities require, pass around a sign-up sheet during this time and make sure everyone fills it out. Consider counting the number of attendees, noting gender ratios, committee to non-committee-member ratios, or other data points for your group’s records.

If it’s a small event with ten people or fewer, you could do a round of ice-breakers. Ice-breakers could include asking people to give a one-sentence description of their priority cause areas or the most interesting thing they’ve read or seen recently. Keep ice-breakers brief and remind people they can come back to a topic later.

If new people are attending, consider giving a brief run-down of EA before the main content of the event. See our guides on communicating about EA for ideas of what to say, or these sample introductory talks.

If you have a guest speaker, prepare a short introduction.

Take pictures or record the event if appropriate.

Managing Group Dynamics

Common issues can arise with any group of people having a discussion. On separate pages, we offer more advice on running discussion groups and dealing with serious disruptions.

In general

  • Split big groups into smaller groups of 3-5 for more participation
  • If you don’t have a detailed discussion plan, 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 to help others remember, especially if you’re not using name tags. It helps people bond.

  • Some people will come for the laughter and 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 effective altruism, so don’t let tangents go on too long, especially if your event had a specific topic. You can bring conversations back on topic by:

    • Saying “Anyway, leading back to our original topic…” or “So that might be relevant to the original topic because…”
    • Asking a question about the original topic during pauses in the conversation.
    • Commenting on what people have said, then asking what another person thinks about the original conversation topic.
  • Seek out people who seem sidelined or unsure. Ask if they have questions or subjects they want to discuss. Of course, they may just not feel like talking, so don’t force it.

New people

  • Ensure new people feel welcome by assigning a friendly member of the group to 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. For example, if one person has never heard of EA before, and looks freaked-out in a conversation with a hard-core AI enthusiast, you may want to intervene. You could 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. Some people may not want to or may feel uncomfortable talking to groups.
  • When they say something for the first time, respond positively and avoid criticism.
  • If someone is hanging out at the edge of a conversation, looking uncertain, ask them what their thoughts are. They might be trying to get into the conversation but aren’t sure 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 two people 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 private word with the person to point out the benefits of having a variety of conversation topics. Gently ask them to help 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, the EA community contains a large proportion of people interested in similar things, such as maths, computer science, philosophy (especially utilitarianism). For people without the same background, conversations can become uninteresting or inaccessible.
  • 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 detailed plan, 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.
  • Leave the venue tidy, making sure there are no belongings left behind. Turn off the lights, data projector, and heating or air conditioning as required.

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.
  • Consider sending follow-up emails to people if you mentioned particular articles or other people they might want to talk to.

Further Reading

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