Ben Conroy shares some of his expertise on representing Oxford Students For Life at the annual Freshers’ Fair.
The Oxford Fresher’s Fair is an experience. With around 3,500 new students passing by your stand over the course of the fair, (minus anyone who sleeps through their slot) and a couple of hundred other stands to compete with for their attention, it gets intense.
I’ve now done one fair as a participant and two behind the stand, and these are some of the main tips that I’ve learned from the experience.
Invite people to talk.
It’s good to have both a hawker’s cry and an introductory pitch. The first one is for getting people to come to the stall. We use some variant of “human rights, life ethics and free flower seeds!” (you can’t give out food or sweets at the Oxford fair and we like the “seeds of life” symbolism). Once you’ve made eye contact, give them a quick pitch for what exactly your society’s about and why they should come to your events. It also helps to have a cool-looking stand!
You’re there to invite people to a conversation, not start one.
It can be tempting to engage people in debates about the issues at the stand: but that’s a waste of both their time and yours. They have a load of other stands to go through, and you have a lot more people to talk to – they’re walking past all the time. You want to invite people to sign up to your mailing list, come to events, and chat to them there.
But be willing to have a brief chat.
You can have all sorts of interesting brief conversations with people if the opportunity presents itself (when they’re writing down their name and email for example). I had a great chat this year with someone about our shared appreciation for CS Lewis, while another person offered to help the society fundraise. Interactions can sometimes get weird: during my first shift this year one guy left our stand only to come back with a bunch of flowers for my stand partner and fellow committee member before vanishing again. It’s also great to develop a rapport with the people on the stands around you – it’s a long day at the fair and you can use some stallholder solidarity.
Be unapologetically pro-life, and unapologetically civil.
The unofficial Oxford Students for Life motto is never more appropriate than at Fresher’s Fair. We’re totally up front about being the University Pro-Life society and what we stand for, but we’re also keen to emphasise that we welcome people of all views on abortion, assisted dying etc. to our events. We almost never get anyone actively hostile (the worst is usually a “not interested” or a grumpy look), and several times someone who initially seemed sceptical ended up enthusiastically signing up.
On that note…
Have an event people of all views will be interested in.
Our first event this term was a talk by Ryan Day of Alliance Defending Freedom on the theme “Whose Life Is Worth Living”, discussing, among other things, some of the ethical issues raised by the tragic Charlie Gard case. That’s an issue that doesn’t cut along standard pro-life and pro-choice lines, and we had a lot of interest in it from people of all persuasions on the stand. Later on in the term we have a discussion of conscientious objection for medics that also drew interest.
If your university has a fresher’s fair or something like it, it’s an excellent opportunity to talk to so many people about your society and pitch yourselves and your events. And you never know what might happen: the conversation I had with the OSFL team as a fresher was instrumental in getting me to join the committee and spending the next two fairs behind the stand.
Ben Conroy is in his third year, studying PPE at St John’s.