Display Tables for Public Events: Preparing Ahead

Aim for an effective, attractive table display. For this event we were protesting the illegal clearcutting of native trees by a public agency.
Aim for an effective, attractive table display. For this event we were protesting the illegal clearcutting of native trees by a public agency. | Source

An event that is planned well and in advance is fun to take part in, not just for the intrinsic social reward, but also for the increased membership, donations, and networking possibilities. Once a table is set up, it's fun to kick back - to celebrate, be social, bask in the interest and compliments of event goers - and enjoy what you have accomplished.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself running around frantically tying up last minute items or worrying about when or if more staffers will show up, then your advance preparation could be improved. Preparing in advance is where the real thought and most of the work is done fpr a public event.

Choose Your Public Event Team

The first step in preparing for an event is to choose your primary team. Even one other person can be a big help. This is how to recruit:

  • Find out as much about the event as you can.

  • Find an article written about last year's event, if possible.

  • Send a succinct message with the article attached to your group's mailing list. Tell them what you see as benefits, especially the fun part. Ask for their assistance in planning. Make it short and descriptive, painting a picture that can excite people.

  • Target a few members you would particularly like on the team. Call them with a personal invitation.

  • Accept any offers to whatever degree they want to be involved. List them and honor what they have offered. Don't try to wheedle more out of someone who's busy. Let them offer more later on, if they want to.

Planning sessions make people hungry. Let your planning ahead include food.
Planning sessions make people hungry. Let your planning ahead include food. | Source

Public Events Goal - Choose One

Start by setting up an informal meeting or potluck at someone's house. You are going to brainstorm a vision - a main goal to plan around - and do some advanced planning. Why are you displaying at this public event? The goal could be to introduce yourselves to the public, to recruit new members, to request support for an issue, or just to educate the public on an issue. Your main goal will determine the overall look of your display, even if there are other subgoals.

Let's say you are a fairly new organization, but have already introduced yourselves to the public. You have a reasonable number of members, although you could always use more. You have started generating a fairly wide network of related organizations interested in similar issues, so you don't need that, really. What you really want is to arouse the public, to educate them on what you stand for and the need to take action in support of it. So that's what you choose as your goal: To arouse the public to take action.

Tree climbing activists peeking through the dead tree branches we hung above the display table.
Tree climbing activists peeking through the dead tree branches we hung above the display table. | Source

Develop a Public Events Plan & Display Design

Now it's time to brainstorm. Lay out writing implements. Talk about the goal and the pictures it conjures in your mind. What does a public aroused to action look like? Feel like? What triggers it? If you were the public, what would get you to pay attention?

Let everyone list their ideas and visions without censoring. Then read them out loud to each other. Some of them will make you laugh. Some of them will be givens. Others will pop your eyes open with excitement. You will know which ideas to keep. They will somehow fit together, even if some seem outlandish or impossible at first.

Now put them together into a plan. What would need to come first? Which of the ideas will lead naturally into other ones? Which can you leave until the last minute? Develop a timeline to show, graphically, when things should be done in order to complete the plan by the day before the event. (You'll need rest time to be relaxed the day of.) Drop whatever is obvious you won't be able to do in that time.

After that think about looks. What type of display table layout would attract people to stop and chat? What can you add to the display that would make people want to take action? Photographs? A display banner? For the event that triggered this article, we hung dead tree branches from the awning and added photos of live local trees on bulletin boards next to the table.

We hung our display banner from the edge of the table with masking tape. We covered the tape over with a long tablecloth. Then we posted display signs on easles out beyond the table.
We hung our display banner from the edge of the table with masking tape. We covered the tape over with a long tablecloth. Then we posted display signs on easles out beyond the table. | Source

Include Display Banners & Signs

Why wait until people get close before beckoning them over? Why not call them from afar? That's what a display banner is for - to catch their attention at a distance and also let them know who you are.

Think carefully about what you want this to look like. Recruit the help of someone in your group who knows a little graphic design. You will want to use the banner for future events as well. Put it on cloth that is durable, using colors that reflect the nature of your organization. Think about where you'll post it: Above the table on a backdrop? Hanging from the awning? Attached to the table itself? Make its design functional.

List Display Table Supplies

Now that you have a clear "look," action plan, and timeline it's time to determine what you'll need for your display table in equipment, supplies, people, and money. Leave money until last, since this is the volunteer world where so much can be done without it.

Call the public event sponsors to find out what they provide already. Generally that will be a table and chairs, sometimes also an overhang, if the event is outside. You will need to bring, at a minimum, a cover for the table and display items to put on walls behind you and on the table itself.

Carry supplies in containers. They're much easier to move this way.
Carry supplies in containers. They're much easier to move this way. | Source

For the goal you have selected, in this case to stimulate the public to action, here is a list of possible things you will need:

  • Photographs and/or news articles about the issue you advocate. These can be posted up or put in a scrapbook for the table display.

  • A big poster showing the what you're worried about and another showing what you are aiming for.

  • A handout showing what kind of action the public can take. These will go fast, so print plenty.

  • Maybe a picket sign or two to put up on the wall, if it's firm enough. (This suggests action in itself.)

  • A prepared news release, in case the press comes by.

  • A call list so you can start a phone tree for emergency action, if the issue warrants it.

  • All the supplies needed to make such things, plus containers to carry them in: Cardstock, matte board, wooden picket handles, stapler and heavy duty staples, display pins, attractive cloths, a binder or clipboard, paper, and pens. A camera to record the results.

Saunders SlimMate Plastic Storage Clipboard, 00558, Letter Size, Black
Saunders SlimMate Plastic Storage Clipboard, 00558, Letter Size, Black

This clipboard container is a great mini-storage unit for gathering signatures, phone numbers, or contact info of people interested in your program.

 

Ask Your Nonprofit for Contributions

Now send out a list to your organization asking who can provide what. You want to acquire as many display supplies as possible without having to buy anything.

Don't just ask people what they will provide. Actually write up the list and send it out, asking people to sign for each item they can donate or loan. Tell them who to give it to, where, and when you need it. After you know what you already have available, then you can cost out and ask for money for the rest. Generally that won't be much.

Assign Public Event Tasks & Keep Recruiting

Now that the planning is done, the action to take is probably suggesting itself. Your team has probably already decided who will play what role and you may have acquired some new recruits. Check to see what is already being covered and assign the rest. I guarantee, if you have gone through the steps above, this part will be easy. What usually causes confusion in action is the lack of good planning. If you have planned well, by now your team will be racing ahead.

Every couple of weeks, send an email out to your list letting them know how you are progressing, introducing new recruits, and asking for any new supplies needed as a result of new (feasible) ideas popping up. One of the things that discourages political activists most is having too many emails that are too long to skim through, so be excited, but brief. Send another one a few days before the actual event, urging everyone to attend and bring their friends. You are recruiting attendance too.

Chatting with the public is a great way to pass the time and to generate interest.
Chatting with the public is a great way to pass the time and to generate interest. | Source

Relax & Have Fun at the Event

The day of the event is the culmination of all your efforts. It should be fun. You have your staffers showing up on time. The look of the table is more exciting than you expected. You have attendees flocking to your booth wondering why you're there. The press comes to report.

Your action flyers are disappearing at a faster-than-expected rate and people are asking lots of questions. You're getting more signups than you thought you would. Your nonprofit business cards are disappearing fast too. Attendees are checking your website on their iphones right in front of you.

Take pictures of your success and prepare to report it back to the group. Send them to your group's newsletter publisher. Make sure to include yourself in them. This is your day!

Your Experience With Public Events

Have you been involved with setting up a display for a public event? How did it go?

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