What I Learned about Outreach from Attending Weddings

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This is NOT that wedding.

Just when you thought your days of doing “YMCA” and finding an affordable gift on the registry were over, you find yourself invited to a slew of weddings. I love a good wedding, but all too-often we find ourselves awkwardly talking to people we hardly know over the blare of “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But sometimes you attend that wedding; the wedding at which the happiness and tastes of guests were considered during planning. That wedding is the dream of all Pinterest boards. That wedding can teach us about good outreach.

Start spreading the news… (cue your aunts to form a wobbly chorus line)

Who is your intended audience and how best to reach them? A good wedding planner understands this and crafts the medium and message to fit the audience. Sometimes this means multiple mediums. I love a wedding with a complementary website that features helpful and updated information. Does your library have an events calendar/page with adequate information? People appreciate images and descriptions.  Include images and bios of speakers. Hosting a knitting class and don’t have images from a past event to include? Scour a free image site.  A good rule of thumb is that 1/3 of your publicity material should be image-based.

A good wedding offers a variety of ways for people to RSVP and makes it easy, which is why we love people who include a SASE or postcard with their invite. Electronic RSVPs are great, but cannot be the sole method because my dad does not have a computer or email address.

table-tents-from-PLIA good wedding builds interest in advance. The website, if updated regularly, can do this. I love the save the date magnets so many couples use nowadays, but they are becoming de tous les jours. Got a really big event you are promoting for your library? Think wedding big: do a stand-alone save the date and a web site for the event, hand out little swag with the event info, have staff wear buttons, have volunteers stand out in front of the library promoting the event a la sign-spinners. Even your smaller events can benefit from more targeted promotions. Would your director consider table tents? Wouldn’t it be cool to have your TAB or scrap booking club make unique table tents for events? Think how much more they will stand out, your volunteers have contributed something highly visible, and they will probably look really cool.

We are family…

I recently attended weddings at which the couples did a great job of creating community at an otherwise socially uncomfortable event. Why do people attend library events? The topic or activity interests them, but many of them are looking to meet people. Whether they are new parents, newcomers to town, or stamp collectors looking for like-minded folk, many of your attendees crave the socialization opportunity. But our events don’t often facilitate this, so let’s see what we can learn from weddings about simple ways to do this.

Reading-Bingo-282x300Wedding bingo is a winner: it’s simple, easy, and provides the topic. Consider doing a similar game at your next baby story time, at the beginning of a book club, or before that talk on the civil war. You can either build in the time if the event allows or offer the game for early arriving attendees. Adapt the one to the left to get attendees talking about books. Or have them get more personal: find someone with an out-of-state driver’s license, find someone who was born in another country, find someone who has visited Canada. You know your community and can best decide how to fill the squares. DO have someone else check it first (i.e. my sense of humor is not for everyone.) You could offer a prize, but I find most people discover the reward is in meeting new folks. (I’ve done this game countless times in countless settings and it’s always gone over big time.)

Let’s give them something to talk about…literally

On the topic of the social aspects of events, there are a number of tricks you can learn from one of the most socially awkward events on getting attendees to interact with each other. A hint: when using these, try to make it sound like they “need” to do the activity. Use firm-ish language such as, “find someone to complete this activity with before the program starts.” You would be amazed at how much people appreciate being told “what to do” (and using it as an excuse to approach someone) and will do what a librarian asks!

  • A couple put crayons/markers and paper on seats with the prompt: draw someone sitting near you. A great way to keep folks occupied and socializing while waiting for something to start. Or build it into the activity.
  • Some friends put conversation starters on the table to help ease us past “how do you know the couple?” Topics ranged from a great movie you just saw or your dream vacation, how much stock you put into the Oscars/Grammys, or  a skill you wish you had.
  • I heard about another couple who provided games on their wedding program for guests along with golf pencils. Tic-tac-toe, hangman, and dots and boxes are just some ideas to get you started.

Can you feel the love tonight?

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Credit: becomingthemrs.com

A take-home for attendees is an excellent way to top off an event or program. They have something tangible to remind them of their fun time and show off to potential future attendees. But before you go admonishing me about the price of swag these days, I ask you to steal the current best wedding trend ever: the photo booth. This is easy, fun, a way to collect feedback, a means for collecting photos of events, and a great way to build your library community. It can be as simple as a sheet hanging in a common area with a volunteer wielding a camera, iPhone, or iPad (if you check out technology, you can promote that at the same time). I’d suggest offering fun props, especially if you can manage something that connects to the theme. Even better, have small whiteboard or chalkboard on hand to have attendees express themselves. Here’s where it can be limiting: printing or direct email is a time suck. Make it clear all photos will be available, but not tagged, on your Flickr or Facebook or event web site page. And don’t forget the photo release!

Photo credit: Amelia Tarbet

Photo credit: Amelia Tarbet

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One response to “What I Learned about Outreach from Attending Weddings

  1. I really like the variety of ideas in this blog – ready to go, if we want, or more detailed, too. Thanks for the plan!

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