Tips for using large scale conference calls and webinars to mobilise supporters and scale up action – from the ‘How to Organise a Webinar for Thousands’ workshop at FWD+Organise 2019.
Drawing on theories of “Big Organising”, “Barnstorming” and “Momentum Based Organising”, activists in the US and Australia have been increasingly blending digital and distributed methods to broaden the scale of their activities. This allows groups to take advantage of the waves of interest that follow particular actions, decisions and incidents.
Massive conference calls and webinars, involving up to thousands of participants, have been a key method for sharing information and getting people to take action. The following is a summary of talks that were given by Jasmine Ruddy, Alexandra Flores-Quilty and Ella Shi during Australian Progress‘ FWD+Organise 2019 conference.
Jasmine Ruddy: Medicare For All (US)
Jasmine Ruddy from US union National Nurses United and the healthcare campaign Medicare For All spoke about the use of mass campaign calls in successfully shifting the creation of a single-payer healthcare system from a fringe to a core national issue. In 2018 campaigners identified opportunities for change due to the change in control of Congress from the Republicans to Democrats as well as the introduction of a new healthcare bill. Within a short deadline, and with few staff, they were able to mobilise local volunteers across the country to organise events and take part in door knocking.
The key to Medicare For All’s campaign was to hold a mass conference call, using the Maestro Conference platform, to inform supporters about their strategy and ask them to take part. The call was heavily promoted via union and other networks and, in part due to the involvement of speakers like Bernie Sanders, drew 6000 RSVPs. Messages and speeches were scripted and the call rehearsed as if it were a show. It successfully pumped up those taking part and once this was achieved they rapidly moved to inviting people to indicate, via their key pads, whether they would commit to further action. Subsequent to this smaller group training calls were held which instructed and empowered locally based volunteers to organise 150 ‘barnstorm’ events in 37 cities, out of which 1500 door knocking canvases were held. 20 000 households were talked to resulting in 10 000 calls to Congress.
Jasmine stated that there were 5 key ingredients in successfully using a mass call to mobilise on-the-ground action:
- Have a clear and high-bar ask. Mass calls are not for asking people to sign a petition or undertake individualised action, but to recruit people to play key roles in local organising. Scripts should be focused to that end.
- Explain your strategy clearly. The strategy does not need to be over-simplified for activists, but should clearly show the path to winning and what people’s role in it will be. On this basis they will be convinced to join.
- Make your ‘ask’ early and often. Peak involvement in the call generally comes 10-15 minutes in, after which callers start dropping off. Even if you haven’t finished outlining the strategy then ask around that point for people to press their keypad to indicate if they are in. Platforms such as Maestro Conference will show organisers who has agreed and capture their number. If you can get people to join during the event itself then it tends to make them feel more accountable.
- Utilise strong messengers. If possible, recruit speakers who are well known, but can also present well. Include volunteers who are already active as they can genuinely show what’s involved. Script everything and treat the call as if it was an in-person event. At the same time aim to sound natural and not overly rehearsed.
- Know your follow-up plan and execute it well. As soon as the call is over send out an email reminding people about what they have committed to and what they will be doing. Have materials such as written guides and tool kits ready for volunteers to use. Set up 15 minute calls and group training sessions to support volunteers throughout the process of local organising that follows.
Alexandra Flores-Quilty: By the People (US)
Alexandra Flores-Quilty is a lead trainer with the Momentum training institute and the co-founder and Campaign Director of By the People – a civil resistance campaign in the United States dedicated to impeaching Trump. She discussed how this campaign used a model involving a central ‘seed’ action which led into a mass call which then led into actions which were widely distributed geographically. The seed action in this case was an occupation of Democrat Congress leader Nancy Pelosi’s office which called on her and her party to end their resistance to impeaching the president. This action was media focused and its “wow factor” effectively operated as an advertisement to guide people to an online link from which they were recruited to a mass call. That call was then used to organise local actions across the US which in turn generated a grassroots movement.
Alexandra discussed how inviting people to take part in a mass call or webinar was a powerful way to bring potential campaign participants together at a critical point. By involving them as soon as they were motivated by a situation the call could then distribute a tool kit and campaigning options to a large number of people all at once. Alexandra outlined a typical call as following these steps:
- Testimonial: How I joined the movement (story).
- The political moment and the need for action (strategy).
- Testimonial: I hosted an action and it was scary but worth it (story).
- Describe action options and call for action.
- Small group conversations.
Other advice from Alexandra included:
- During your initial action promote the link to the mass call by saying it when interviewed, putting it on banners, on flyers, etc.
- Have a clear and high “ask” of people taking part and use the call to connect people in the same area to undertake an action. Through organising that action they can create the local infrastructure needed for further steps and actions.
- Holding small events, involving as few as 5 or 6 people, in a number of locations can have a large impact, particularly in making the campaign seem newsworthy at a local level.
- Use speakers who the audience can relate to. These speakers can give testimonials regarding actions they’ve undertaken. Make these relatable and inspiring to create a personal link and to model a story for others to use.
- Put the call out for action early on in the call and start with the biggest way people can take part.
- If you have the capability to immediately break the call down to smaller groups to discuss more closely what they will do, then do so. This will get the ball rolling and also help people to feel part of a community.
Ella Shi: Climate Strike (Australia)
Ella Shi, who previously worked with Get Up! as a digital organiser, discussed the use of a mass call during the organising of September 20 Climate Strike in Australia. The campaign had previously used Zoom, but moved to Crowdcast. This tool allows organisers to add ‘call to action’ buttons and change them as the event unfolds. It also allows polls to be conducted during the call, thereby allowing comments and engagement, as well as the use of multiple screens and slides.
Tips from Ella on running mass information calls and webinars included:
- Plan everyone’s roles closely and delineate them clearly.
- Send all the speakers pre-event checklists. If they are calling in remotely then they need to check that they have all the right tools and that they are functioning, that their firewall settings are correct, that mic levels are the same, etc.
- Rehearse and practice the call to keep it smooth.
- Have a dedicated person/team to keep all the technology running and a separate one to stage manage the event. Technological issues are often overlooked beforehand and the same person or people expected to run the event and problem solve tech issues as they unexpectedly arise.
- Include plenty of interaction with the audience. Collect RSVPs for actions, use polls to engage them, pitch asks, give alternatives, etc.
- Minimise steps for action. Make initial involvement as simple as hitting #1 on a keyboard and then further information can be given later. If the steps involved become too complicated then callers can be lost.
- Keeping things low-tech and simple can work. The level of tech and the pitch has to fit the campaign. If everything is too slick than callers may feel alienated.
- Make sure that all the basics are covered. For instance, agreeing on who will follow up with callers and what they will do. Another example is ensuring that approaches and rules around privacy are dealt with beforehand. If more than one organisation is involved then you need to have data sharing agreements and to make it clear to everyone involved how their data will be used.
- Don’t forget that just because you’re in a room on your own or with a few people that your event is massive and might involve thousands.
During the discussion period after the talks further advice was given including:
- Treat mass calls and webinars like any large in-person event. Use flyers, texts, Facebook event pages and cross-promotion for recruiting.
- Employ a hook in terms of holding back a major announcement or information until the call.
- Get interested people’s details when they first sign up and keep reminding them that the call is coming up. Ask your organisational partners to promote the talk on the day. Send a text and information out one hour before the call with a number, pin and other log-in information.
- Don’t be afraid to approach high-profile speakers. One advantage of involving them in mass calls is that they take up less of their time and they don’t need to travel.
- Approach large organisations, offer them opportunities to speak and ask them to promote the call.
- Campaigning - Distributed network
- FWD + Organise 2019 (Australian Progress Conference - Australia)
- Organising - Distributed network
- Scaling up