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This Week (Group Starting Edition) - Table-Fu

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ISSA tablingTabling is a great way to increase a group’s visibility, to recruit new members, and even fundraise, but it is not always easy.  In this week’s article, I’m going to go through the basics of tabling, different types of tables, and how to deal with some common problems that come up.  Unfortunately (maybe fortunately for all of you) I can’t write endlessly about every topic and I can’t cover every eventuality, so if I don’t cover a question you have or you come up with an idea I didn’t go over, please send me an email and let me know! So, what are the basics of tabling?  The very first thing you’re going to want to do (and this is true for almost any activity your group engages in) is go through the proper channels at your school to reserve or rent a table.  Unless your school is one of a handful in the country, you’re most likely not going to be able just to set up shop whenever and wherever you want.  Thankfully, most schools I’ve interacted with are happy to let you table as long as you follow the proper rules  After all, they are there to help you just like we are, and are typically happy when a group uses the resources they’re willing to provide.

Once you have permission from your school to table, the next thing you’re going to want to discuss is why you’re tabling.  There are many different reasons and ways to table.  In this article, I’m going to mainly focus on recruiting as a goal, because as a new group that will be (and should be) your biggest goal.  However, I have used tabling for everything from activism (on the National Day of Prayer) to fundraising during the tragedies in Haiti and Japan.  So while this article is going to focus on recruiting as a goal, you should decide as a group what your goals are, what supplies will be necessary to reach those goals, and how you want to table.

Taking recruiting as a goal, you can probably assume that your goals for recruitment are to talk to new and potential members and to increase your group’s visibility.  In order to accomplish these goals, you’re going to need tabling supplies.  Thankfully the SSA can provide you with some amazing brochures and stickers  to help you along.  (These resources are available at www.secularstudents.org/tablingsupplies, but note that new groups are only eligible for a subset of our supplies.)  There are also some things you’ll want to consider getting that we can’t provide you.  For instance, a table cloth (even a cheap plastic one) goes a long way to making your table look professional.  Extra things like brochure holders, signs, etc. can all also be great ways to increase the appeal of your table and to make it look professional, but they are by no means “necessary.”  

So, now that you’ve discussed your goals, gotten your supplies together, your'e ready for tabling day.  What do you actually do?  I’m sure this is going to be common sense to most of you, but let me give you some tips on how to make your table approachable.  

First off, when I was tabling at my school, I found that when people were working, eating, or playing on their laptops at the table, people were less likely to feel comfortable approaching you to ask questions. (They see it as interrupting you, but you want them to feel like you’re open to talk to).  I would suggest having two or three people at the table who are just there to answer questions and talk to people (e.g., not eating, working on homework, etc.).  If this isn’t possible, it’s not a big deal, just make sure you do your best to look ready to answer questions or talk if needed.  

Secondly, it’s really easy to want your entire group and friends to show up to your table to help out (and if you have that much enthusiasm/support, more power to you!.  But there is nothing less attractive to new members than seeing a large group of people huddled around your table talking.  Imagine that from their point of view: it's hard to approach a new group of people when everyone’s making in-jokes and not paying attention to potential members and their questions.  

Finally, and this is the most common-sense advice in here: be professional, polite, and friendly.  Yes, you’re going to get people who are going to yell at you, tell you you’re wrong, that they’re praying for you, or people who get downright upset that you even exist.  However, the thing to remember is that you may be the first atheists (or generally non-religious people) these individuals have met.  You are the new face of our movement, and the way you interact with these people, even the hostile ones, reflects on your group and our movement as a whole.  

Tabling is, in my opinion, one of the greatest recruitment tools in your disposal to get new members and interest in your group.  I hope I’ve been able to cover most of the basics in this article, but as I said earlier, if there is something I missed or any questions you have, do not hesitate to email me or any of our other campus organizing staff.  And remember to have fun!

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