So your Meeting wants to participate in a community event, such as a street festival, folk festival, Pride event, etc. You’ve never had a festival booth before. How do you get started?
When planning a booth at a local event, consider how to lay out the space to make it inviting for people to enter and linger. Arranging the tables so that there’s space inside the booth for people to walk in can be more inviting. It’s especially welcome if it lets them get in out of the rain.
You’re going to need a way to keep either the sun or the rain off, somewhere to sit, and somewhere to put your stuff. Some events will provide some or all of the following. For others, you’ll be responsible. Tables and chairs are imminently borrow-able, though.
- Table: 6–8’ folding table will be easiest to transport
- Folding chairs: 2–3
- Tent or day shade
- Tablecloth: make sure it fits the table
You might also like to have a cooler and some snacks to keep your volunteers hydrated and energized. Absolutely make sure you have a tablecloth in that case, so you can hide the cooler and the boxes you used to bring your stuff behind it.
A table, 2 chairs, and a day shade might run you $350 if you have to buy it all yourself. Definitely see what you can borrow.
Festival booth visibility
Think about height
You need to make your space noticeable. Anyone who’s had a booth at a craft fair, convention, etc. can tell you that you need to place things at different heights.
Someone scanning the crowd will see only that which is above head height. Have some stuff on the table, but don’t only have things flat on the table. That’s only visible when someone walks right up to the table and looks down. Rather, have some things standing on the table or an easel. Those’ll be visible to people walking past the festival booth. Have something at eye level, too. Here are some examples of things that can help:
- Vinyl banner
- Vertical banners
- Feather/falcon/etc. flags
A vinyl banner (about $75 from VistaPrint) can go across the front of a table if the table is at the front of the booth. This is cheaper than getting a professionally printed tablecloth. If the festival booth is set up for people to walk in, though, it won’t be so visible. And even then, if you get swamped, visitors’ legs will block it. Consequently, a vertical banner (add an additional ~$70 for the stand) may be a good choice, especially if you want to fit a bit of body text explaining the faith. That lets a significant portion of the banner be at eye level. Or maybe you put a horizontal banner hanging from the top back of the booth.
Finally, there are things that flutter up high where they can draw the eye. Flags, balloons, and bunting do that job. Bunting can be homemade, but it only hangs as high as the edge of the tent. Balloons can be plain or even have “Quakers” written on in Sharpie. They can bop along above the festival booth, given some helium. However, they’re single use. Flags can be above head-level (like balloons) so they’re visible at a distance and are reusable, but they don’t come cheap (~$275 for a 10ft feather flag). These are the trade-offs. It’s up to you.
On the table
Make sure anything you hand out while tabling (literature, craft activity, temporary tattoos, etc.) has contact information for your meeting or church.
Be sure to have literature that covers information on at least the following:
- Quakers in general
- your yearly meeting and its programs (such as summer camp)
- your meeting
- what you have to offer for children
It’s a good idea to have invitation cards for people to take home, and if there are other meetings in your city, a listing of them would not go amiss.
For some of your literature, get brochure holders from the office supply store. They’re just a few dollars each. Those will stand your trifold brochures and rack cards up nicely, making them more visible to passersby. If everything’s just flat on the table, that’s not going to catch anyone’s eye.
If you want, you can also do a little paper crafting. There are templates for printing and folding brochure holders with card stock. If you go this route, go for a light background, unlike in the photo below. Laser printers’ toner flakes off at the folds. You can edit the template (to put in your own graphics) using vector software such as Adobe Illustrator or the free Inkscape. If the event is outdoors, bring some good tape for taping them down to the table or to tape a weight on the bottom. They’re just paper, after all.
For the things that do sit flat on the table, paperweights are very good to have if you’re outdoors. Rocks you found on the ground don’t look so great, though. Here are two possible alternatives:
- Home improvement stores sell 12”x12” “mesh-mounted mosaic tile.” These are typically 36 2×2 tiles for $5. Peel them off the mesh, and you have 36 snazzy paper weights.
- Little drawstring bags filled with aquarium marbles.
And please, spring for the color printing. I know color printing costs more than black & white, but you get what you pay for. At least have one thing that’s a nice design, printed in color. Colorful things will catch the eye.
What parent can resist an adorable child saying “mommy, look at this!”? Ok, yes, it’s possible inside the toy store. Sometimes. But having something (ex: chocolate, stickers) to attract kids to your festival booth is a good plan. An even better plan is having something for the kid to do, giving you a chance to talk to the parent for a bit.
Small craft activities can be a good choice too. Temporary tattoos take a full minute to apply, which gives you time to chat.
Have somewhere for people to sign up for your email list!
An email address is the most valuable thing you can get while tabling, because it lets you follow up later. Be sure to follow up with an email about how great it was to meet them at the event. Include a little more information about Friends and about your congregation, including a link to your website.
This is probably a task introverts are going to want to avoid. You’re going to need to talk to people.
Smile (if that’s culturally appropriate) and be friendly. Maybe offer a handshake and your name. If you’re not very comfortable with handshakes and introductions, practice! The list of things practice won’t help with is very short. It includes things like “being 12 feet tall.” It doesn’t include things like “simultaneously look at someone, smile, shake their hand, and say your name.” My dad trained me on that by giving me a piece of candy for each person I introduced myself to as a child. What can I say? It worked.
That confidence I mentioned above? Yeah, that’s also in the practice category. You can practice the sound and posture of confidence.
If you are able to stand for long periods, doing so will give some of that height advantage mentioned earlier and put you closer to eye level with the people you’re talking to. If you can stand for short periods, then perhaps stand up when someone approaches. If you can’t stand, then hey, no worries.
Try not to seem busy or standoffish. If you’re engaged in a conversation with the other people in your festival booth, passersby may be less inclined to visit, not wanting to interrupt you. They also may not want to interrupt you playing with your phone or reading a book. Standoffishness can be avoided by keeping track of your facial expression. Don’t sit there scowling! A “my, what a pleasant day!” facial expression is more open and inviting. Perhaps call out “good morning!” to people as they pass. They may turn to you and allow an opening for conversation.
The last time I was at a festival booth, I greeted people as they passed. If they turned to me, I asked whether they were familiar with Quakers. If yes, “did you know there are Quakers in this town?” Then I could give them some information about the meeting. If no, well, see the next section.
Try to be warm and inviting. And when I say “inviting,” I mean literally say things like “we’d love to see you next Sunday at 11” or “I hope to see you tomorrow at 10.” Invite them explicitly.
Think of a short, quick answer to the inevitable first question “what’s a Quaker?” or “what do you believe?” My answer, as an unprogrammed Friend, comes out something like:
We believe that every person has direct, unmediated access to God, and so when we get together it’s not like any kind of church you’ve ever seen. Instead of a priest preaching at us, we sit together and wait for someone to receive a message from God, which they share with everyone else.
Think about what your answer will be and practice saying it a few times until it just spills out smoothly. Confidence is attractive! Don’t hem and haw.
There may sometimes be follow-up questions, so try to anticipate those. The “double circles” exercise from Quaker Quest would be an immensely helpful thing to do as a meeting before your next booth.
The kids question
If your meeting doesn’t have any kids yet, be ready to answer “do you have anything for my kid?” For reference, your answer should always be “yes,” and that answer should always be true, even if you don’t currently have any kids in your meeting. Hospitality includes being prepared for guests, and those guests may be 8 years old, so have what you need ready to welcome families. Try:
We have a program for kids ready and waiting, but since they all grew up, there aren’t any kids in it right now.
This still isn’t the answer parents are hoping for, but it’s better than a flat “no.”
- Always have 2-3 people present when tabling. If one’s drawn into a conversation, the other can continue short interactions.
- Pack a lunch and water bottle so you don’t have to abandon your table-buddy when you get hungry.
- Attaching the vinyl banner to the front of your table: (pick one)
- Safety pins through the grommets to the table cloth
- Double-sided tape on the back of the banner
- Bring safety pins, zip ties, and gaffers tape. They might come in handy.
- A rolling suitcase is a great way to carry all your papers, banners, stickers, and other small things to and from your festival booth