Putting on a Successful Speaker Event or Film Showing

We find that rather than trying to bring too many speakers and have too many events, it is much more important to organize a few simple but excellent events that you promote effectively and widely ahead of time, and that you then follow up with additional effective activities.

In fact, before you bring people to speak, it is extremely valuable to have an informational table in your community and to distribute fact sheets on the issue. This provides information to potentially hundreds of people, and then creates interest when you do decide to organize a speaking event. Such tabling or flyering should be done as often as your resources permit – every day, once a week; all year long, if possible.

  1. Choose a speaker who will give a presentation aimed at people new to the issue. Remember, three-quarters of Americans know very, very little about this issue. They definitely need Palestine Basics, which gives a brief outline of the history – 1948, 1967, etc. Most people don’t even know that there is a military occupation of the Palestinian Territories! We highly recommend you invite Alison Weir, the Executive Director of If Americans Knew.
  2. Choose a date and time for your event that will get a good turn out! If you are organizing a campus event, don’t choose a time during finals or midterms!! Think carefully about what part of the year would be best, which day of the week, and what time of day. Make sure to allow yourselves enough time to effectively promote the event to the local community.
  3. PROMOTION: Build interest in the talk as widely as possible, begin this right away, and continue it through the very day of the event! (If you don’t promote the event, all your work and funds will have been wasted.)
    1. Ways to promote your event:
      • Make sure you list the event on any and all calendars! There are community calendars, Indymedia.org, radio station calendars, local newspapers, the campus calendar, department calendars, the campus newspaper and radio station, etc. (Once you compile these lists, you can use them again and again.) Be sure to give the calendar editors lots of warning because they may compile the calendars in advance, and provide them the information in a short, clear fact sheet that includes an easy-to-understand detailing of what, where, and when your event is.
      • Flyers – these should be placed all over your community or campus, again and again. Most of all, they should be designed in a way that will bring people new to the issue – for example, “solidarity with Palestine” only brings those who already know much of your information and sympathize. Try to avoid jargon that appears ideological, etc. – again, this only brings one section of the community and you want everyone to come! We can supply possible flyers for you – you can then modify these however you feel best to reach the neutral, new-to-the-issue student/community member. Remember, your events are focused on getting out facts – someone doesn’t have to know anything about the issue or even agree in order to find it interesting.
      • Advertisements, if you can afford these, in local newspapers – ideally, you would put in at least two ads – one a week before the event, the other a day or two before it. We can also provide these.
      • Send an announcement to as many email lists as possible. If you only send it to the “usual suspects” you will get “the choir” – people who already have learned about this issue. Even if you fill the room, that is not a successful event, since you have not brought in new people. Send the announcement to local political clubs across the political spectrum, to discussion groups, to antiwar lists, departmental lists, etc. Anything you can think of!
      • Put out more flyers – hand them out in your community! Put up easel signs by your table. Put flyers in every dorm on campus, in every cafe in the area, etc.
      • Contact relevant departments – e.g. the journalism department, or international relations, political science, etc. Offer a special brown-bag briefing to the department. Ask if they can announce it on their list-serve. Ask professors to announce it at the beginning of their classes.
      • For public programs in libraries, etc., you can also phone local high schools, speak to Civics/history/government teachers, and suggest they announce the event to their classes. They may wish to give extra credit for attending (this has worked very well in a number of places!).

      The point is: if you’re going to go to the trouble to bring a speaker – do everything you can to get people to attend! Especially people new to the issue!

    2. Critical points to have on all your promotional literature:
      • Time and location in detail. Include a map if possible!
      • Information about parking and/or public transportation
      • Phone number where people can get information.
      • Website for more information (that of your organization or another useful resource, like www.ifamericansknew.org).
  4. Media Outreach. It is often possible to get news coverage of your events/speakers, but it will only happen if you alert the media in advance and repeatedly.
    1. Send a clear, one-page press release to all local newspapers, radio stations, etc. Keep in mind that the person receiving your release doesn’t know what the event is and doesn’t have much time – keep it very easy-to-understand and brief. (See below for a sample press release.)
    2. Follow up each press release with a phone call! (Say something like: “we want to alert you to an important speaker we expect you’ll want to cover... X is coming to speak on such and such a day at such and such a time, etc.....” Have your pitch concise and clear. If they have not yet seen your press release, get the specific email address and re-send it promptly.)
    3. Offer journalists pre-event interview opportunities – often radio hosts will have the speaker on ahead of time – which reaches many more people, as well as increasing attendance at the event itself. (Just clear this first with the speaker.)
    4. On the press release have two contact phone numbers and be sure to answer these!
    5. See if you can run a free public service announcement on TV/radio or in newspapers.
    1. Choose a moderator who will give a very brief introduction for the speaker, who will calmly and civilly, but forcefully if necessary, control any disruptive audience members during the talk, and who will call on question askers at the end.
      1. At the beginning the moderator should:
        • Remind people to turn off cell phones.
        • Introduce speaker (short)
        • Announce that the speaker will take questions at the end.
      2. In the middle, the moderator should be prepared to remind the audience that they may ask question at the end in case of interruptions.
      3. Following the talk the moderator should:
        • Ask people to keep questions short so that everyone has a turn.
        • Try to call on audience members in the order they have raised their hands. Alternatively, you can have microphones that people go up to.
        • If someone goes on too long, politely but firmly stop them. Be fair and firm. Attendees came to hear the speaker and intelligent, brief questions, not to hear long-winded speeches from the audience.
        • If someone interrupts too often or will not stop talking, be ready to call security to escort them out. Decide ahead of time what your policy will be. We suggest a policy of giving disrupters two warnings and then, if these fail to stop them, having them civilly escorted out by security personnel.
        • While some audience members may become rude or angry (or may have come intending to hassle the speaker or organizers), always remain calm, polite and respectful. However, inappropriate behavior should be stopped immediately and firmly. Remember, your event is for the benefit of those who really want to learn – don’t let it be hijacked by a loud minority.
    2. Provide written materials, DVDs, etc. for attendees to take home.
      1. Prepare rubber-banded bundles of materials to hand to each attendee, containing the Origins booklet, synopsis, DVD, etc.
      2. Have a table with additional materials. The bundles are excellent! However, if you don’t have time for these, be sure to at least have a table with materials well displayed.
      3. Make sure to have sign-up sheets for If Americans Knew or your organization and get as many people as possible to sign them! Maybe have them on a clipboard and pass them around during the Q&A – get at least email addresses and more information if appropriate (e.g. phone number, address), though people don’t like having to fill out too much. There could be a place on the sheet where people could check if they want to volunteer.
    3. Videotape the event and the Q&A
      1. This provides an important record of what went on that can counter any misrepresentations about it.
      2. Also, if you wish, you can use it for a future Public Access TV show, or place clips on your website. You can also send them to If Americans Knew if you choose.
  6. Be sure to follow up
    1. Write short, positive letters to the editor about the event, giving additional facts. Also, if you have time, op-eds might be possible. Pro-Israel attendees will quite likely write defamatory letters about the event. It is good to have positive ones in the paper the same day.
    2. Then, if there are the expected pro-Israel letters to the editor, write more letters to the editor, rebutting any misrepresentations or mistaken facts.
    3. Also, please be sure to send word of negative letters to the editor to the speaker right away, so that s/he can respond as well, if necessary – though usually it’s best to have local people take the lead on this.
    4. Remember, this follow-up is just as important as the event! Letters to the editor are widely read. Be sure always to give the If Americans Knew website, since this provides far more info than can be given in one letter or op-ed.

Yes, this may seem like a lot of hard work, and if you can’t do everything, at least do what you can. Remember, it is this kind of sustained, focused, effective effort that makes the world a better place and the US a better country.

As Margaret Mead said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world.

Sample Press Release

Attn: [News Editor/Calendar Editor/editor’s name/etc.]

For immediate release

Contact: Name
Telephone number
Name #2
Telephone number #2
Email #2

A Title Telling Clearly What the Event Is
e.g. Middle East Expert to Speak on Campus

What: Lecture and slideshow on the crisis in Israel/Palestine by Dr. John Smith of The XX Institute
When: Day, Date, Time
Where: [Specific address, including building name, etc. Try to include a map/directions and other practical information about parking, etc. at bottom or on back, clearly indicated, and on your website. Many campuses have campus maps you can download or print. Remember, you want reporters to attend even if they’re not familiar with the campus or location.]

City, State, Date [of release]—On Jan. x, 20xx, John Smith, a noted expert on the Middle East and author of the recent book, BookTitle, will speak at College University. Dr. Smith will discuss the current crisis in Israel/Palestine in a talk entitled, “Name of Talk.” His talk is being sponsored by Student Group. [Feel free to include other information about why this is interesting, or quotes from people about the importance of this talk, but there’s no need to make the release long. Clarity and putting the most important information first are key.]

About John Smith
Include a brief bio of the speaker with relevant information about his/her qualifications, background, interesting experiences, and maybe even quotes from other experts about what a great speaker s/he is.

For more information: www.Website.com
To schedule interviews with John Smith ahead of time, please call Name at Number or email email@address.

# # # [indicates the release is finished]

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