Introductory Presentations

Image: EA UniMelb

Introductory workshops and talks suit audiences that are unfamiliar with effective altruism. Use them for newcomers’ events or for presenting to non-EA groups.

This page describes interactive workshops and talks of varying lengths. If you have only a short amount of time with the group, delivering a talk may be most suitable. Otherwise, we recommend workshops. The interactive activities help participants engage with the ideas and give them more opportunities to ask questions and clear up misconceptions.

First impressions are crucial, so it’s worth learning how to represent EA well and avoid common pitfalls. The guide on communicating about EA covers various ways of expressing EA concepts as well as common questions and objections. We also have a guide to giving presentations.

Goals for Intro to EA presentations

It is really easy to try to fit too much into an intro presentation. So it pays to think about what your goal is for the presentation, and keep the number of goals small.

The goals could be some key concepts, and/or some actions you’d like the audience to take.

Possible concepts

Some concepts an intro presentation could get across include

  1. There are lots of different ways people try to do good. But there is a huge variation in the impact - many altruistic actions do little or nothing, some harm, and some do an astonishing amount of good. Shifting to the very best thing to do could multiply your effect on the world perhaps a hundred times.

  2. Your intuitions are not a good guide for how to do good, but there is research, organisations and a whole community to help guide you. There are no “right” answers, rather we are all striving to work out the best things to do, and acting on our current best guesses as we learn.

  3. Some causes may be far more impactful to work on than others. The cause areas that are the most obvious choices to you may not be the most impactful (because you may have more impact working on neglected causes, and because you may be able to help those you haven’t considered helping before).

  4. Some problems (e.g. global health and poverty) are getting so much better! Progress can and has been made.

  5. Some problems are off most people’s radar, yet are extremely serious (e.g. animal welfare and risks to humanity). We can and should take action.

  6. You can have a large impact with your career, and the most obvious caring careers are probably not the most effective.

  7. EA is a thriving international community of people who want to help the world, and want to help each other help the world.

Possible actions

  1. Read this free book (If you are giving away books)

  2. Read the 80,000 Hours website

  3. Come to local EA meetups

  4. Donate to GiveWell recommended charities

Recorded Talks

Playing a video introduction to EA and discussing it afterwards is one way to kick off an introductory event. Pre-recorded talks may be a good option if you have little time to prepare, your organisers are not confident public speakers or your group is small enough that a casual event is more appropriate.

Two options are:

Slides and Scripts for Introductory Talks

The links provide slides and a suggested script for an EA talk. We recommend you to modify these scripts to include what drew you to EA and how it EA affects your life.

Interactive Workshops

Giving Game

A giving game is a great way to introduce EA concepts for presentations taking longer than 45 minutes. An organiser introduces a few charities and asks people to decide which should receive a pot of money. It is more engaging than lectures and provides a concrete example of the use of EA principles.

This Google Drive folder, also shown below, contains all the materials needed to run an introduction to EA involving a Global Health and Poverty Giving Game. The presentation takes about an hour and a half, but it can be adapted to shorter and longer times. It includes PowerPoint slides, a sample script, handouts about the charities, frequently asked questions, and a video of this presentation in action. The presentation and its variants have been used with over a hundred audiences.

For introductions to EA, it is usually best to restrict charities to a single cause area. In cross-cause-area giving games, participants often become distracted by their favourite cause and pay less attention to evidence. Remember to explain the breadth of EA after the game.

For global poverty-focused giving games, the Life You Can Save can sponsor money going to charity. They will sponsor $5 (or 5 Euro or 5 pounds) for each high school student, $10 for each university student, or $20 for each professional. For details on sponsorship, go to this guide from The Life You Can Save.

Cause-Prioritisation Activity

Cause-prioritisation is one of the most important and unique aspects of EA. While it is a difficult job to choose between different cause areas, it is possible to introduce the concepts of cause-prioritisation and teach people to apply them in a 1.5-hour introduction to EA.

This Google Drive folder, also shown below, has all the materials needed for a workshop that introduces EA and cause-prioritisation. It gives participants an activity to use the Scale, Neglectedness, Solvability framework to assess three to six cause areas. It includes PowerPoint slides, a sample script, information sheets on six cause areas, and a worksheet.

Animal Charity Giving Game

This 1 to 1.5-hour introduction to EA with a giving game involving animal charities is designed for introducing EA to animal rights and vegan groups. The giving game has people choosing between The Humane League, the Good Food Institute, and a local animal shelter that focuses on pets.

This Google Drive folder, also shown below, has a PowerPoint slide and a handout about the charities for this presentation. You’ll need to change some of the information to suit your local area. Ideally, you should find out enough about an animal shelter near you to allow for a cost-effectiveness comparison. Two data points are the number of animals helped per year and the shelter’s annual expenditure.

Note: This presentation isn’t as well-resourced or well-referenced as the ones above.

What to expect for introductory presentations

Written by Catherine Low, based on her experience running introductory presentations

  1. Some young people seem to think it likely that humanity will become extinct in the next 100 years (the range we get is from 0-100% when we survey high school students, but there is usually a decent chunk of the class that think it is greater than 10%). This is in contrast to Greenberg’s MTurk study, which suggests people assign a very low probability to extinction (although the results vary a lot with the question asked). So your audience may vary a lot. The point here is not to assume that the audience thinks it is likely or unlikely, as opinions vary hugely.

Relatedly, many young people (and adults) claim that human extinction isn’t all that bad. When instructors ask students “Which is better, 90% of people die in a catastrophe and the remaining people rebuild, or 100% of people die in a catastrophe”, usually a decent chunk of the class says thinks it is better for humanity to become extinct. The point here is not to assume x-risk is scary for people.

It's possible that most people care about people once they are alive, but not in the continuation of our species. There appears to be also a strong belief that humans are screwing over the planet so our species isn’t all that great. (This belief is prevalent amongst young people in many developed, Western countries).

The fear of x-risk might make more sense if you demonstrate humanity’s progress first, and explore reasons why x-risks might be bad using different ethical frameworks (not just integrating utility over all time!). Toby Ord goes into why extinction is bad using many different moral frameworks in his interview on the 80,000 Hours podcast. I don’t know which framing is more convincing.

  1. Most people think it is cheap to save a life in a developing country, so the ~$5000 to save a life sometimes isn’t all that compelling.
    We suggest this figure is used after explaining that some charity advertising is misleading. E.g. A charity might say “$10 provides life saving medicine," which might sound like your $10 will save someone’s life. But they probably mean it is $10 a dose, but plenty of people who don’t receive the dose will not die as a result, and some people who do receive the dose will still die. They also may not have included costs for distribution, training, and monitoring. It may seem horrific that people hold the opinion that it is just a few 10s of dollars to save a life, while not donating much or anything to global health charities, but my suspicion is that people haven’t really made that connection yet.

After explaining the best estimate for cost to save a life, motivate this by talking about how small this amount is compared to how much we value life.

  1. Cause prioritisation and choosing charities seems callous to some people, so it is a good idea to show empathy towards those who we are choosing not to help. We recommend you indicate that it is a tragic that we have to make a decision about who we help - we really want to help everyone who needs help. But we can’t, so we must prioritise.