Running an In-Person Event

This guide primarily covers logistical considerations before, during, and after in-person events. Many of these points will only apply to bigger events, so if you're hosting a small event, feel free to skip over sections that don't seem as relevant.

Other pages contain information on types of events and running retreats, as well as general tips on building happy, healthy communities. For information on how to co-host an event with another group, please go here. For information on running virtual events, go here.

Preparing for your event

  1. Define the purpose of the event.

There are many different possible purposes for an event. When planning events, defining your aim helps to achieve it.

The Art of Gathering” contains excellent advice on choosing a purpose, and has tips on how this will affect your planning. Check out these notes about “The Art of Gathering” for a summary.

Some options for a purpose could be:

  • Getting to know prospective group members

  • Moving people down the funnel model of engagement in EA. Your event could facilitate one or more of these transitions:

    • Moving people from “audience” to “followers” - outreach to people who haven’t heard of EA before.

    • Moving people from “followers” to “participants” - e.g. holding events that help new people become more knowledgeable about EA.

    • Moving people from “participants” to “contributors” - by providing support for people to conduct projects, volunteer, attend conferences, or make significant commitments.

    • Moving people from “contributors” to “core” - helping people with career plans or further engagement with EA organisations.

  • Enjoyment and bonding

  • Make progress on an issue (e.g. the event could involve group members working on a project, or fundraising)

2. Decide who the target audience is and how best to reach them.

Being intentional about your target audience can help create a better experience for attendees. For example, you’ll want to avoid advertising events that require a more intermediate understanding of effective altruism to newcomers, or they might feel unwelcome at the event.

Possible ways to define your audience include:

  • People who are new to effective altruism but might be interested– this will work well for introductory events

  • People who have heard of EA but have spent 0-10 hours reading/listening to EA material

  • People who have spent 20+ hours engaging with EA but are interested in getting involved in concrete ways

  • People who have already made a career change or donation decisions based on EA principles

When considering how best to reach your audience, consider both the platforms you use as well as the messaging. An email list can be good for reaching out to involved members of your group, while a Facebook event or Meetup group can be good for reaching new people.

It can also be helpful to name who your target audience is in your event communications. For example, in your Facebook event post, you can add “this event is open to people with all levels of familiarity with effective altruism,” or “This event will likely be most beneficial to those who’ve already read introductory material on effective altruism.”

3. Choose a format for the event and plan your content of the event accordingly.

Consider your event purpose, what your audience will be interested in, and your capacity as an organizer. For example, if the purpose of your event is to help group members bond, a social or a retreat might be useful; if the purpose is to help members learn about EA, a speaker event or discussion group might be more appropriate.

Ideas for event formats are available on the Event Ideas & Content page.

4. Schedule a date and time for the event.

Decide on when to hold your event. Some things you might want to consider:

  • Even for casual events, define an end time to signal when people will start leaving. If possible, allow people to hang around afterwards if they wish to continue discussions.

  • If you decide to host a more formal or structured event, set aside time for attendees to talk afterwards. Consider encouraging this by offering food and drink.

  • Many people, especially women, may not feel safe when travelling alone after dark, so you may wish to have earlier start and end times for events.

  • You may wish to experiment with varying the day/time of your event, especially if you have multiple events per week. This can attract different audiences with different availability.

5. Choose and book an appropriate venue.

Finding a suitable venue can be a challenge. Here are some things you may want to consider as you look for a location:

  • Hosting your event at an easy-to-find, easy-to-reach, and central location - remember that some people may not have a car, so they may struggle or be less willing to travel to suburban locations. Other people may prefer to drive to events, so the parking difficulties of central areas may deter them. So it may be difficult to find an ideal location for everyone.

  • Cost to book the location - we recommend having most or all EA events free for people to attend. You can apply for funding to cover room hire and other event costs.

  • Avoiding restaurants as your dominant meeting location - buying food can be inaccessible for people with young children, unusual food requirements, little money, or who want to prioritise donations with their spare cash.

    • Reduce some of these concerns by finding cheap, vegan-friendly, family-friendly restaurants.

    • Some groups make events in cafes or pubs more accessible for people with little money by buying some food to share using their group funding and making it clear people don't need to buy additional food and drink if they don't want to.

    • Ben Kuhn shares more considerations about eating out.

  • Hosting your public events in places that are wheelchair accessible and asking about the accessibility of toilets and disabled parking places when possible - these considerations are helpful for people with mobility issues unrelated to using wheelchairs as well.

  • Age restrictions at places that serve alcohol - if you are expecting underage people (whether potential members of your group or as children of your attendees).

  • Hosting events in areas with lower levels of street harassment - in some cities, women have reported substantial street harassment while travelling to EA events in certain areas. Ask a few attendees if they have had any problems getting to and from venues.

  • Quieter or more peaceful locations –when choosing a pub, cafe, or restaurant, look or ask for quieter rooms and avoid big sports match days if the venue screens sports. (This is particularly relevant in western countries like the US, UK and Australia.)

    • Some people struggle to communicate in noisy environments, so try to offer socials in quieter settings. Quieter rooms are especially considerate for those whose first language is not English, those with hearing loss, or people opposed to loud environments due to sensitivity to noise, touch or other conditions.

  • Equipment and facilities necessary to hold your event and make your attendees comfortable - depending on your event, this might include audio-visual equipment, tables, sofas and cushions, and comfortable seating (tall chairs can be uncomfortable for some people). You may also want space to move around and talk to others and/or a configurable environment.

  • Bear in mind that, when sharing a venue with a non-EA organisation, attendees may think that you are associated with the other organisation. You may want to avoid sharing buildings with organisations that conflict with EA principles or otherwise have a poor public reputation.

Suggested Venues

  • Your home (or another organiser's home) - this may be an option if your group is small or your home is large.

    • New attendees may find it intimidating coming to a stranger’s house, so personally contacting new people who RSVP to the event and putting up an EA sign outside can help welcome newcomers.

      • See "6 - Plan food and drink for the event" for tips and menus if you take this approach.

  • Open spaces like parks, courtyards, or gardens - this can work especially well for parents who can't afford babysitters. Make sure to have an alternative location if the weather is bad. Pick a spot that's close to toilets, has some seats (or bring folding chairs) and has a mix of sun and shade so people can choose to be in or out of the sun.

  • Hiking or walking paths - going on walks or hikes together is ideal for generating one-on-one conversations, and is good exercise too!

  • Public libraries or community centres - these tend to be accessible, neutral locations and often have affordable rooms for meetings, speaker events, discussion groups or workshops. Sometimes community groups can access these at a discount or for free.

  • Cafes, bookshops, or hotel lobbies - these can work well for smaller groups.

  • Office buildings - if one or more of your group members works at an office with rooms available to rent out, you may be able to book a room through them.

6. Plan food and drink for the event.

Food and drink during an event can motivate attendance, help people to relax, and can encourage people to stay longer and socialise and discuss. In general, try to have a range of healthy and less healthy snacks and always provide plenty of accessible water. Funding is available to pay for inexpensive food and snacks for EA events.

If you are hosting a dinner, please see here for additional tips.

Some things to consider:

  • Vegan/vegetarian options - many EAs are vegetarian and vegan, so have ample meat-free options. Many EA groups choose to only cater vegetarian or vegan food.

  • Varied drink options - when serving drinks, provide plenty of nice options without caffeine or alcohol, so it doesn’t feel like the default option is caffeinated or alcoholic. If there will be alcohol at the event, make sure to find out whether under-aged people can still attend, and make that clear in the description.

Ideas for refreshments

Finger Foods

  • Chips, carrot or celery sticks and dips (hummus, salsa, guacamole, tzatziki, artichoke)

  • Pastries, biscuits or crisps

  • Fresh fruit skewers (or easy to eat fruits like grapes and berries)

  • Finger sandwiches

  • Bruschetta

  • Mandarins, apples sliced into quarters (whole apples don’t get eaten as much), bananas.

Cold Food

  • Sandwiches

  • Tortilla Wraps

  • Pasta Salads

  • Other salads

Delivered Food

  • Getting food delivered reduces the burden on organisers but usually increases costs.

  • Delivery pizza is a staple of many uni groups. If you choose to order pizza make sure you check how many gluten-free and vegan pizzas you need. Remember that pizza is not very healthy and may not suit all your attendees, so it might be good to also order healthier options.

Event-specific suggestions

  • For speaker events offer finger foods, tea, coffee, juice, or fruit squash/cordial. Cordial lasts much longer than juice once opened, so it can be reused. You could offer beer or wine at the event.

  • For longer events like workshops and coworking sessions, it might be good to have some finger foods if the event is between meals, but for longer events, you will probably need to offer a full meal. Consider arranging a meal that can be served cold, so you can have the meal delivered or prepared before the event begins.

  • Our Dinners page has suggestions specific to dinner events at an organiser's home.

  • If you need to serve food and drink in a separate room, make sure it’s not too far away, as moving locations tends to lose people.

7. Publicise the event on social media and mailing lists.

We offer a guide to promoting events and sample graphics to help with marketing.

Start advertising your event about two weeks in advance or earlier for large events.

In your event description, we recommend including the following information related to the venue or food:

  • Communicate the precise location - if meeting at a large place such as a park or food court, communicate the precise location, and, if outside, use Google maps to put a pin in the exact location. Give an organiser’s phone number and description so people can easily find the group if they get lost.

  • Provide public transport directions/information - while Google Maps solves most transportation questions, it may help to put public transport directions or nearest parking information in the event description. If your event is on a Sunday or will go late, check how frequently the public transport will run.

  • Notify information on accessibility - if you are meeting somewhere with difficult access (e.g. non-wheelchair accessible), make sure to note this in the event description with an apology so that people are fully informed.

  • Consider age restrictions - if you're meeting in a place that serves alcohol, note whether underage people can still attend.

  • Provide organiser contact info - make sure there is a clear way to contact an organiser, like an email address or phone number so people can ask for specific information.

  • State child-friendliness - clearly state whether the event is child-friendly. Note whether there are changing tables nearby.

  • Provide food info and consider food restrictions

    • Provide information about what food, if any, will be available so people can decide if they want to eat beforehand, bring their own food, etc. If you are going to a restaurant, link to the restaurant’s menu if possible.

    • Ask people to give you information about dietary restrictions if you are planning to serve a meal.

8. For larger events, assign volunteer roles if needed.

While you may not need volunteers for small meetups, a few volunteers may be helpful for larger events. Ask co-organisers or experienced group members to help out, especially if you are expecting several new people to come to the event. The same person could do most, if not all, of these roles.

  • Greeter/Usher: Useful for in-person larger events or when it is hard to find the room.

  • New person contact: This person can keep an eye out for any new people, make sure they feel welcome, and invite them to conversations with people they might find interesting. Contacts can also ask newcomers if they would like to sign up for other things the group offers such as mailing lists or one-on-ones. Our page on communicating about EA may be helpful for people in this role.

  • Jargon catcher: The jargon catcher can ask speakers to explain jargon by saying things like, “Can you explain what “QALY” means?” Alternatively, they can clarify jargon themselves. Clarifications can be useful in both small group conversations and casual presentations.

  • Discussion moderator: When guest speakers have finished presenting, moderators can select people to ask questions so that the guest speaker doesn’t have to.

  • Attendance and feedback: This role will depend on what your group has decided to measure. It could include politely asking people to wear name tags at in-person events, counting the number of attendees, writing down their names, and distributing feedback forms. Read more about tracking event impact.

  • Drinks and snacks organiser: This role involves obtaining and putting out all the refreshments, and ensuring everything is cleaned up afterwards.

9. Send a reminder message out a day or two in advance of the event.

Send out an email or Slack message before the event to remind people to attend. Some apps (e.g. Eventbrite, AddEvent), may do this automatically.

If you have time you could also individually message people about the event and ask if they’re planning to come, which feels more personal than a mass email and create a culture where members feel welcome. It might be particularly useful to nudge newer members to return.

10. Decide if and how you will collect feedback on your event.

Think about how you will measure the success of your events. What worked and what didn't work could be useful information for your group and other groups. Some options for doing this are:

  • At the end of the event - ask a couple of people at the end of the event what they liked/disliked about the event, whether they have any suggestions for improvement, or ideas for future events.

  • Debrief with co-organisers - debrief about what went well or poorly. To avoid forgetting, it helps to do this shortly after the event and to take notes, but if the organisers are tired, or the event didn't go very well, it might be better to wait for another day before discussing the event.

  • Printed short surveys or online surveys - print short surveys in advance, or create a short link to an online survey people can fill in on their phones. This might be most useful for or longer events such as multiweek reading groups/fellowships, full-day workshops and retreats, have people fill them out at the end of the event. Survey responses can provide excellent information but can leave a poor impression. Be especially wary if your attendees are new to EA, since most groups don’t send out surveys, and some people find them annoying. Use your intuition to work out what would be appropriate.

  • Tracking the number of people or their names - many organisers also choose to keep track of the number of people, and (for small events) the names of people that came.

11. Gather any equipment and resources you need.

We recommend you make a list of things to bring that is specific to your group and the venues you use. If you're holding a small, casual social, you may not need any of these things, but for bigger events, you may need to prepare more. We recommend you go through this list before you leave home for each event.

Some things you might want on your list:

  • Signs or banners with your group name and tape, pins, or blue-tack to put them up. (If you choose to forego these, you may want to indicate in your event instructions how new people can find you.)

  • Drinks, snacks, dishes, and cutlery if applicable.

  • Tablet or clipboard with a pen to collect contact information from newcomers. Some universities also require registered groups to get all attendees to sign in.

  • Blank stickers and permanent markers for name tags. Name tags are highly recommended unless you expect everyone attending will know each other attendee.

  • If your event is open to newcomers but is not a full introductory presentation or workshop, you might want to prepare and bring a short introduction to EA to present at the start of the event (examples).

For larger, structured, and formal meetings, consider bringing:

  • Flyers and brochures for introductory events

  • Topic fact sheets if presenting a topic, or worksheets and pens if doing an activity

    • Ideally, keep a copy of printed materials in a digital text format. You can email these to vision-impaired people who may prefer to use screen readers.

  • Copies of EA books such as Doing Good Better, to lend to interested newcomers

  • Fully charged camera or silenced cell phone for taking pictures

  • Copies of feedback forms and pens if collecting physical feedback forms

  • EA T-shirts for the organisers to wear

If giving a presentation or playing a video, consider bringing:

  • Laptop, charger, and dongle for a data projector

  • Presentation on USB in case something goes wrong with your laptop

  • Clicker to advance slides

  • If you have a guest speaker at your event, prepare a short (< 5 minute) introduction

  • Water for the speaker

On the Day of your Event

Before the Event

  • Prepare early - Arrive about 20-30 minutes early for small events or an hour early for bigger/formal events to set up signs, audio-visual equipment, refreshments and troubleshoot any issues.

  • Have technical check-ups - make sure that the slides are displaying with correct formatting and that audio from computers and microphones is working.

  • Be visible - you can do this by putting up direction signs. Having large banners (see our sample banners) outside of the venue works very well. If you’re in a public space, display EA-related objects and tell the floor-staff where to direct people who ask about the ‘effective altruism group'. Some group organisers wear EA T-shirts, others place EA signs or books on the table.

  • Have name tags if possible - if you are using name tags, get all organisers to put their tags on. You may also wish to put your pronouns on your name tag (e.g. she/her, he/his, they/them).

During the Event

  • Greet people - greet people as they arrive at your venue, make them feel welcome, and offer them a name tag (remind them it’s optional, and they can be anonymous if they wish).

  • Allow time to chat - let people chat for five or ten minutes after the set start time.

  • Afterwards, officially start the event - If new people are attending, introduce yourself, then you may wish to give a brief run-down of EA and what your group does before the main content of the event. See our guides on communicating about EA for ideas of what to say, or these sample introductory talks.

  • If needed, share practical information or questions to ask the group - for example, to point out where the toilets are, or to tell people that you're planning on taking some photos and to ask at the end of the event if anyone wants the photographer to remove photos of them.

  • Introductions or icebreakers - if it’s a small event with ten people or fewer, you could do a round of introductions or icebreakers. For example, you could get people to share their names (and pronouns if you wish). Icebreakers could include asking people to give their names and an interesting question to help participants get to know each other, such as a one-sentence description of their priority cause areas or the most interesting thing they’ve read or seen recently. Keep ice-breakers brief and remind people they can come back to a topic later.

  • Take attendance - if you need to take attendance, as some universities require, pass around a sign-up sheet during this time and make sure everyone fills it out. You may also wish to count the number of attendees, noting gender ratios, committee to non-committee-member ratios, or other data points for your group’s records.

  • Document the event - take pictures or record the event if appropriate.

  • Serve food and drink when appropriate - many groups choose to do this at the end of the event so people can eat and drink while discussing the content of the event.

At the End of the Event

  • Thank yous - at the stated end time, thank everyone for coming along. If you have a guest speaker, thank them publicly.

  • Feedback - ask for feedback from the attendees and your co-organisers if you have chosen to do this.

  • Create anticipation for the next event - even if you don’t have a detailed plan, you can let people know that there will be more events coming up.

  • Make sure everyone has a way to get involved and keep in touch.

  • Allow chatting - if possible you can tell people they can remain in the room to keep chatting.

  • Leave the venue tidy - make sure there are no belongings left behind, turn off the lights, data projector, and heating or air conditioning as required.

  • Travel considerations - during evening events, for the safety of your attendees, encourage people to travel in groups. With small groups, you could ask whether people are walking, and in what direction, so people can walk together if they wish. Alternatively, let people know they can meet at a particular part of the room to organise walking groups to the group members cars or the train or bus station.

After the Event

  • Connect on social media - you may wish to add the people you met as Facebook friends the next day. This will make it easier to invite them to future events and allow them to start conversations or ask you questions.

  • Follow-ups

    • Send an email to attendees or post on social media the next day with any relevant, useful information for people who attended the event, such as websites or articles that were mentioned. If there are good photos you may want to post them too.

    • Consider sending individual follow-up emails or messages to newcomers thanking them for attending.