As someone who is interested in animal rights and raising awareness about being veg, then you have no doubt tabled at one point or another. You probably know how hard it is as well. For a lot of awareness groups tabling can seem like a waste of time; people seem to have an innate response to ignore awareness groups when they have a table set up. So, here are some tips on how to effectively table.
1) Location, Location, Location
When tabling it is important to pick an effective location so that people will be forced to see you. To do this, you must ask yourself a couple of important questions:
- What are you raising awareness about?
- What time of day do I want to table?
- Where will the most people be at this time of day?
- Where should I place myself in the space so that people see me, but don’t consider me to be an obstruction?
Let’s use a ready example from my own tabling experience. SAVVY (Student Association of Vegan and Vegetarian Youth) tables each year for our Veg Challenge. When we table we are asking people to pledge to go vegetarian or vegan for a week to thirty days. So we are trying to raise awareness about a veg lifestyle. SAVVY usually tables during meal times because that will be when people are most focused on their dietary choices, and that is when it is easiest to interact with the most people on campus since everyone has to eat. We then pick locations in or near the dining halls. We focus on the dining halls that are most popular are different times of the day. So for lunch we pick the dining hall closer to classrooms and lecture halls and in the evening the ones closer to resident halls. Finally, SAVVY always gets permission from Dining Services to set up. In the lunch hall we set up in the middle of the hall. For dinner, we set up right outside the hall. Because of our choice in location when we table we easily have hundreds of people see us even if we are only tabling for two hours at a time.
It is important before you start to know what materials you are going to need. Once again we need to look at what we are raising awareness about. If you are looking to show how slaughterhouses mistreat their workers, then having a bunch of materials on veg nutrition isn’t going to get your message across. When SAVVY tables for the Veg Challenge we look to have material on how to eat veg on campus or at home. We include vegetarian start guides, school specific leaflets on what veg options there are in each dining hall, and little quarterlets on basic plant based nutrition.
If you are tabling for a specific event it is also important to have material on that event on hand. So for the Veg Challenge we make little leaflets that explain the challenge and where people can go to sign-up. If you are going to table to raise money for an animal sanctuary walk, having a little leaflet on what animal sanctuary is and why they need the money is important!
3) One or two?
How do you man your table? Is it one person by himself or herself, or is it two people working together? It can be really easy to say that having one person is good enough when you have small numbers but I strongly encourage you to have at least two people manning your table. Why? Because it can be hard to work up the courage to talk to someone on your own, you might not know all the answers, or you simply freeze because you can’t think of a good response. Having two people helps to reduce the chances of people becoming emotionally and mentally tired and thus not as effective.
4) Dress for Success!
I hate to say it but you will have much more success getting people to listen to you if you don’t look like you have just rolled out of bed. I struggle with this one personally; however, when I table I step up my game for the animals. Dressing for tabling doesn’t mean you need to wear a formal dress or a three-piece suit, it merely means something more than a t-shirt and old jeans. Simply putting on a nice blouse or button up shirt, along with kakis or nice jeans will be enough. Add a smile and well-brushed hair and you are on your way to success.
5) Getting Their Attention
So now your table is in the right place, you have perfectly selected materials, there are two of you manning the table and both of you are dressed to kill. What now? Now it is time to get their attention! This is going to be the hardest part because it requires you to actively initiate conversation with strangers. For very shy people or those who suffer from social anxiety this might not be the form of activism for you but do remember there are two of you, so play to your strengths. Here are a couple of tricks for getting their attention:
- The Hook: Just like in writing it is a good idea to have a hook. What can you say to get people’s attention? When tabling for the Veg Challenge SAVVY would often start with the hook “Have you ever thought about going veg?” Your hook will change depending on what you are tabling for. If you ware tabling to boycott SeaWorld then perhaps you will start with an interest fact like, “The tanks that whales live in is equivalent to you living in your bathtub the rest of your life.” Try to keep them short and something that easily rolls off the tongue.
- Food/Free Samples: Food will get people’s attention right away and groups like the VegFund make it easy to give away free samples. SAVVY had more people talk to us during the fall activities fair than ever before because we were handing out free Tofutti Cuties. While you are grabbing their food start a conversation with them like, “Have you tried this before?” or “Did you know that are other great animal product alternatives out there like this one?” This is a very easy way to get a stranger to talk to you.
- The Challenge: This is perhaps the one that will fail the most out of the other two but with the right crowd can be very effective. It also depends on what you are doing. The Challenge idea is that you challenge a person to do something. It can be as simple as watching the short video from PETA called Meet Your Meat, to taking a pledge to not eat meat for a day. The Challenge works better when there is some kind of reward attached to it like food, entry into a drawing or for the video watching money (see Veg Fund for details). The Challenge can also be done with games like trivia, or a scavenger hunt, but once again some kind of prize is necessary for this to be effective.
As you can see, there are many ways of tabling effectively. It is important though to have a plan so that everyone is on the same page. If possible have a meeting where you and the people tabling talk over some basic (who, what, where, when and why). At this meeting you might also consider doing mock tabling that way people can practice initiating contact in a safe environment. A note of caution: by doing more active tabling awareness groups do open themselves and their members up for criticism and rude remarks. Make sure that your members are ready for this and know how to handle that kind of situation. Remember when all else fails, smile and simple say “Thank you for taking a moment to share your thoughts with me.”
This is a guest post written by Simone Arnold. Simone has been vegan since February 2012 and co-president of the Student Association of Vegan and Vegetarian Youth (SAVVY) at the University of Rochester, the college she attends as a social psychology major.