Student Activities Fair: A Guide
Or How to Win at Early Term Recruitment
Welcome to the EA Groups guide to student activities fairs! In this guide, we’ll be going through strategies for how to get as much value as possible for your EA group at the annual student extracurricular fair. Over the course of this document, we’ll go through what goals you should have for the fair, how to do lightning EA pitches, how to organize your expert pitching team, and much more. Let’s dive in!
What is the student activities fair?
II. The Pitch
(optional) The Follow-up
III. The Elite Pitching Squad
1. What is the student activities fair?
The student activities fair (otherwise known as freshers fair) is the annual or bi-annual student extracurricular fair most colleges host. Usually held at the beginning of the term, every student group registers for a table and, over the course of a few hours or a few days, pitches people going by on getting involved with their group. Since lots of students will be using this event to figure out what student groups to get involved with, this is an excellent opportunity to find new people (especially freshmen) to get involved in your EA group.
So why is the student activities fair important? Well, if done right, it can be one of the most effective ways to spread the word about your EA group to a very wide audience. Some groups have succeeded at getting over 1,000 sign-ups for their email mailing list over a few days. We’ll show you how.
There are just two important prerequisites for this guide. First, you need to have an email mailing list set up. Many schools have mailing list platforms that student groups can use, so if your group doesn’t have a mailing list, that should be where you should look first. A good backup option is www.mailchimp.com.
Second, you need to make sure that your group is registered for a table at the activities fair. If you couldn’t register in time, don’t despair! It is usually fine for members of your group to just wander around among the crowds and pitch people on the fly. This usually works almost just as well.
3. The Goal
The goal of the activities fair is two-fold: maximize the number of sign-ups for your mailing list and schedule follow-up coffee meetings with the most interested people. Why this? Well, the most important goal at the beginning of the term is to find new people interested in EA, where much of the remainder of the term is spent cultivating their interest and involvement. To find the people that will be most interested and motivated by EA ideas, you want to send these ideas as wide as possible. One of the best ways to increase campus awareness of your group is to be sending emails to most of the student body on a regular basis. This makings creating a large emailing list notably valuable. Further, the activities fair is the only time of the term when a large portion of the student body is actively looking to sign up for mailing lists. This makes time during the fair precious in terms of email sign-ups.
Second, follow-up coffees should be scheduled with the most promising people that you meet at the fair. During the fair, it is common to have a few people approach your table that have significant background in EA but didn’t know there was a student group or to find people that have read a bunch of similar material but have never known there was a movement. Since it is clear that these people are interested, you want to follow up with them in a more robust manner. Scheduling a coffee meeting works extremely well for this.
4. The Strategy
Now that we know the goal, we can get into the details for how to actually win at the student activities fair. There are three main components to this. First, we will illustrate how the fair should go. Second, we will go into the specifics of the pitch. Third, we will talk about how you can assemble your team of expert EA pitchers.
I. Basic Strategy
At the activities fair, you’ll have your team of people, a table, and hundreds of people walking by. What should you do? The general strategy you should aim for is to constantly be approaching people. A small number of people will be attracted to your table, but you will miss out on the vast majority of people if you aren’t actively approaching them. This means that you want everyone to be in front of the table (with maybe one or two people that stay near the front of the table while everyone else is approaching people further away).. When you approach people, you should aim for a 30-second to 1-minute conversation where the goal is to get the person to sign up for your group’s mailing list. As soon as you’ve succeeded at getting a sign-up, you should move on to further approaching unless the person seems particularly interested (for example, if they mention that they’ve been specifically looking to get involved with the EA group due to encountering 80,000 Hours online and reading all of their career guide then it would be worthwhile to spend a few minutes talking with them).
We can summarize the above framework as follows: the number of sign-ups you get is just the product of the number of people you have pitching, the rate at which they pitch, how long they pitch for, and how often a pitch results in a sign-up. First, let’s look at the details of the pitch.
II. The Pitch
There are four parts of the pitch: the opener, the spiel, the closer, and (optionally) the follow-up. Let’s look at these each in turn.
The opener is the first thing that you say when you approach someone. The goal of the opener is to have the other person agree to having you give them your spiel which will contain the real content of your pitch.
The best openers are short, simple questions, usually about 20 words or less. My favorite opener is, “Do you want to help improve the world?” Here are a few other examples:
“Hi! Would you like to learn how to do the most good with your career?”
“Hi! Would you like to learn how to save the world?”
We recommend the first opener as it has proven to work well with other groups. But feel free to experiment and come up with your own!
It can be difficult to get people’s attention in a busy fair. The easiest way to do this is: make eye contact, reach out to shake the person’s hand and smile, whilst saying your opening line.
Once the person has agreed to your opener, you want to tell them about your group. There are three pieces to this. First, you want to briefly tell them about what EA is. Second, you want to tell them how precisely EA can be valuable for their goals. Third, you want to make the ask. Here is an example spiel:
“Effective altruism is a global intellectual community of people trying to figure out how to improve the world as much as possible. We’ll send you a free guide on how to find highly impactful careers, based on over 5 years worth of research. The group also hosts speakers, a weekly discussion group aimed at helping our members build their plans for how they will help improve the world, which we’ll let you know about through our mailing list - would you like to sign up?”
People will often follow this up with a few questions. If they do, it often means they are interested and you should answer them as best you can. If the person agrees to sign up, you’ll want to collect their email immediately. The best way to do this is to have a Google Docs spreadsheet that all of the pitchers are using and for each person to have access to this on their laptop. That way, you can just give the person your phone and they can enter their email there. Backup options are for people to have clipboards and paper sign-up sheets, but this requires someone to enter the emails afterwards which can be a pain. We strongly suggest the laptop approach if it is feasible!
Regardless of whether or not the person agrees to sign up, you will want to close by giving them a concrete next action to get involved. The best way to do this is to give them a flyer with the title, date, time, location, and a brief description of your group’s next event (it is ideal if this event is an intro to EA event). The flyer should also include a line that says, “Want to get involved with EA at [your school]? Get in touch at [contact_email].” You should mention to the person that they should send an email if they want to get involved with the organization of the group. Here is an example script for this:
“Thanks for signing up! By the way, I wanted to let you know that we will be hosting an Intro to EA event at [date, time, and location]. That would be a great event to come to if you want to learn more about the EA presence on campus. Also, if you want to learn more about the group, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the email here.” [hand them the flyer]
(optional) The Follow-up
Finally, if the person seems particularly promising, it can be a good idea to spend a couple minutes talking to them about EA and your EA group. This is really important to do with people that seem motivated to help with the student group or who have background with EA. The content of this tends to be context-dependent, but don’t forget that you still need to be pitching your group! If the person seems very promising, ask them if they would be interested in getting coffee in the next week and find a time to follow up with the person.
III. The Pitching Squad
Now that we have a good idea of how the activities fair will go and what the pitch should look like, we need to find some well-trained pitchers. Now, there are three pieces to this - finding people, training people, and then the pre-fair huddle. Note that you should have a draft of the pitch that your group is going to use prepared before the workshop!
The primary way to find people to join the pitching squad is to ask them! You should aim for having between 4 and 8 people in front of the table for the entire period of the fair (unless the fair is over multiple days, in which case you should aim for this just during the most busy times). Ask members of your committee, ask general members of the group, ask friends, ask your boyfriend or girlfriend. Ask anyone that you think would be willing to help out until you get enough people committed for the event. Lots of people will have other commitments during this time, and if they say they are already booked, you should try to convince them that helping build up the EA group is the most valuable thing they could do with that time.
Be persistent! Not having enough people pitching is a surefire way to miss out on a lot of the potential value of the event.
Now that you have your team, you need to get them all up-to-speed on how to pitch. Approaching strangers and asking them to sign up for a mailing list is notably socially aversive, so you want everyone to get at least some experience with it before the event itself.
To do this, we recommend hosting a training workshop before the activities fair. There are five important parts of the workshop. First, you will want to provide everyone with motivation for why pitching is important. Tell them about your vision for the student group and how you want EA to become a dominant force impacting the lives of the most talented people at your school. You want to give them an emotional reason to really care about doing this well.
Next, go through the two things that you will be targeting for the activities fair - email sign-ups and scheduled coffee meetings. Give your reasoning for why these are the right things to target (very wide broadcast of a basic pitch plus more intense follow-up with the most promising people). Once you’ve done this, you should start by having everyone clear three 30-minute blocks in their schedule in the next week. These are to be used for people to be able to immediately schedule coffee follow-ups with people they think are very promising without having to struggle to find a time. Mention that people can do more than three if they want, but that each person should aim to have at least three slots.
After that, you should go through the model of the pitch that I’ve described above. Tell them that the thing to target is email sign-ups, explain the opener, the spiel, the closer, and the follow-up, and give them your current draft of the pitch. Feel open to changing the pitch during the workshop if people come up with new things to try.
After you’ve gone through the model for the pitch, it’s time to have everyone actually try delivering the pitch. Pitching strangers is really hard, and you want everyone to feel comfortable and fluent in how to pitch before the actual event. To do this, break the squad up into groups of 3. Have one person deliver the pitch to a second person while the third person watches and gives feedback. Make sure that every person gets the chance to deliver the pitch at least three or four times. Having the person receiving the pitch role-play someone excited by the pitch or someone turned off by the pitch can also be a very useful activity.
After this, you should get everyone set up with how they will be collecting email addresses before finishing. As mentioned above, the ideal method for this is to have people accessing a spreadsheet on their phone so that they can have people write their contact information down on their phone. If people don’t have smartphones, a laptop at the table or paper sign-up forms can work okay too. We do strongly recommend not using paper sign-ups unless you have to, though, as you will lose a large number of contacts due to poor handwriting. For collaborative smartphone spreadsheet applications, I would recommend Airtable first (iOS, Android) and Google Sheets as a back-up. You can also have people directly sign-up for your mailing list, but I don’t recommend this as it makes it harder to do a specific follow-up with the people from the fair.
Finally, you should schedule a time for everyone to meet the day of the fair shortly before the start for a brief group huddle and to do any set-up at the table itself (if, for example, you have a vinyl banner). At the huddle the day-of, give people one final blast of motivation before the launch into the pitching.
5. The Fair
Now it’s time to collect a few hundred email addresses! If you did everything above, the fair itself should go very smoothly. Something to expect is that some of the pitchers will get demotivated or tired during the event. When this happens, try to provide some gentle encouragement to get back in the game. As the organizer of the affair, you should make sure your team is doing okay. Bringing them water or food during the event is a great way to show your appreciation.
There are a few other important things to consider the day of the fair. First, as mentioned above, you’ll want everyone set up in front of the table so you can be actively approaching people. Second, make sure everyone is set up to use their phones to take down email addresses. Third, if you have a banner for your group, you want to make sure that you hang the banner between two poles behind your table instead of hanging it off the front of the table (this is very important!). If you hang the banner off the front of the table, most people will be unable to see it due to the walkway being very crowded or due to people clustering around your table.
Congratulations! You’ve now collected a massive number of emails of students interested in your group. What now? First, you should send a follow-up email to every single person that you got an email from. You can find a template for this follow-up email in the email templates folder that has been shared with you. You should also make sure that you actually add everyone to your email mailing list so they get all of the updates on your group throughout the coming year. See our guide to email marketing for how to best take advantage of your newly upgraded mailing list
If you’ve gone through this guide, please let us know how it went! We’re eager for your feedback and to hear how the event itself went. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.