Ten Crucial Tips for Public Outreach Work
Sharing resources and having discussions about veganism in a public space is one of the most popular and effective ways to engage in abolitionist education. When doing this kind of public outreach, you can have enriching conversations with large numbers of people, and you can help open their minds to the possibility of becoming vegan.
If you don’t have a wealth of experience doing public abolitionist educational work, you might have a bunch of questions, including: How can I encourage people to talk to me? What should I say? How can I communicate clearly and effectively? How can I ensure that I’m sharing a well-articulated abolitionist message? What if someone gets upset?
To help answer these questions and others, here are ten basic tips to keep in mind when preparing for your next outreach event:
1. Use a booth or a table, rather than simply standing on a corner with pamphlets. Many people are accustomed to ignoring leafleteers distributing materials at random. Using a booth or a table requires a bit more set-up work, but it has many tremendous benefits: it creates a welcoming space for interested people, it gives you room to display your abolitionist banners and literature, and it gives passersby the (correct!) impression that you are engaged in legitimate work.
2. Create a clean, professional, and visually appealing display of pictures and resources. Make your booth or table a space that people will want to come and explore. It is wise to avoid gory pictures. Graphic and violent imagery creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for genuine discussion and, even worse, gives the impression that you are objecting to the horrible ways that we treat animals, rather than to the fact that we are using and killing them, period. The atrocities we commit against nonhuman animals are morally abhorrent, but visual displays of those atrocities are rarely conducive to abolitionist education.
3. Let people come to you. Attempting to force a conversation with someone avoiding eye contact and walking briskly will rarely work. And if you appear to be accosting disinterested passersby, you may even turn off people who would otherwise be pleased to speak with you. So focus your attention on the people who seem interested. Maintain accessible, open body language and posture. Face the crowd and come across as prepared to answer questions. Appear positive, approachable, and ready to engage. If someone stops to take a look, greet them.
4. Speak personally to your interlocutors, but also loudly enough that passersby can hear (unless a sensitive or personal matter is being discussed). Letting others hear what you’re talking about allows your thoughts to inform passive listeners, and can encourage onlookers to come and jump into the conversation.
5. Avoid canned speeches. Try your best to engage personally with your interlocutors and to avoid giving overly prepared answers. If the person you’re speaking with gets the feeling that you’re taking them through a script you’ve been through many times before, they are less likely to stay engaged. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t practice responding to questions in advance; if you have a lot of practice speaking about an issue or question, it’ll be easier to give a thoughtful and helpful answer.
6. Don’t just answer questions: ask your own questions and have real conversations. Ask your interlocutors what they’ve heard about veganism or animals rights, whether they have considered becoming vegan, whether they think that animals matter, and so on. Ask them about their personal experiences and about how those experiences have shaped their views. As people share more about themselves, you will be able to figure out where to focus your attention in the discussion.
7. Aim to reach ‘target’ ideas/conclusions. In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of setting goals in advocacy conversations. We encourage you to apply the ideas of that blog post when you are out tabling.
8. Stay positive and don’t get bogged down in negative conversations. Always be friendly, no matter what is said. In almost every case, a kind, calm, and friendly demeanor will stifle any hostility that will come your way. But if someone persists in being openly hostile or aggressive, it is important to actively disengage. For example, you might say “I’m sorry, but I’m not feeling comfortable with the tone of our conversation right now. Would it be alright with you if we moved on?”
9. Reinforce core abolitionist ideas and provide abolitionist resources. Tabling conversations are often about ‘planting the seed’ for future intellectual and moral growth. Make sure that the seed you are planting is an abolitionist seed! Likewise, try to ensure that the person you are speaking to will come away with the resources at her fingertips to locate more abolitionist information. Our Respecting Animals pamphlet is an excellent leave-behind after a conversation about veganism, as is our Demystifying Vegan Nutrition document. And, it goes without saying, Professor Gary Francione’s many books and print materials are invaluable resources.
10. Exchange contact information and follow up. As we have explained in a recent position paper, following up with the people you encounter is a crucial part of getting great results. Encourage the people you speak with to provide their name and email address and consider sharing your own contact information with them. And, of course, we encourage you to direct people to the IVA.
Of course, these are just some tips we’ve found to be helpful in our own work. If you have any suggestions about additional tips, we’d love to hear from you!