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Building a Better Table

As noted before, we tried a few new things this time around, and I had some other ideas for the future. (Follow the “CONTINUED” link…there’s pictures!)

Despite the pretty well predictable motions of the planets, we didn’t have a lot of warning that this event was coming. That is, we didn’t know that the museum would be hosting the event until Monday, or that we would be hosting a table until yesterday. So, this was all done on short notice, with little time to incorporate some of the ideas developed from previous appearances.

The bulk of the table paraphernalia had been with us at previous appearances. When we were at the Mars Quest exhibition in Lafayette last November, Craig brought along a portable TV/VCR combination and his Mars Society standard-issue videotapes. We set this up at one end of the table and left it playing on low volume as a means of attracting passerby. We did so again this time, but it didn’t get as much attention as before — even with a larger screen.

The pictures below show what the table looked like. The first shows the view from the front, what you would see as you were leaving the building or talking to us at the display. The second shows what the table looked like as you were approaching, from the side.

The table from the front

Briefly, the setup consists of the MS Founding Declaration on an easel, explaining what the Society is all about; our large LAMS placard (with the chapter URL) on a tabeltop stand; and a sheet of plexiglas covering a relief map of Mars, a four-page synopsis of the Mars Direct plan, and an attractive full-color graphic showing examples of everyday technologies developed or improved as a part of space exploration. An enlarged illustration of a Mars Direct landing site stands on the floor before the table, and on the side (below the TV/VCR), in frames, are a picture of Mars (two hemispheres) and a larger version of the standard relief map on tabletop stands. On the corner of the table beside the television, we stacked up some books (Case for Mars, Entering Space, and Mars: The Nasa Mission Reports) and MS brochures.

The most popular item was the small relief map of Mars, to which Craig had attached small notes pointing out the landing sites and expected arrival dates for the three en-route landers/rovers.

What Was New This Time:
We had plenty of reduced-price membership forms, but we made the mistake of handing them out rather than requiring interested parties to sign up and pay on the spot (Patt Czarnik — Hi Patt! — is going to have a coronary). That was a major error, as the whole point is to get people to make a commitment when they are interested and we have their attention, not to let them go and think about it and put it off and eventually maybe forget all about it. This was our first attempt to use the cut-rate membership offer, and I would say that we failed.

I also, on the spur of the moment, printed off a batch of member survey forms, similar to those handed out at the Conference. I hoped that we might run into at least one current MS member, but that was not the case. It was a good idea, but there was no opportunity to use it.

While cleaning house a couple of weeks back, I came across a stash of Mars posters I picked up at the Stanford Conference two years ago. I stopped at the store after work today and picked up two inexpensive frames, and framed the two most interesting posters for display at our table. Since I knew we wouldn’t have anything to hang them on, I also picked up four tabletop stands, which (with a little bit of on-the-spot re-engineering) were perfect for holding up the frames. The poster with two views of Mars was complimented by several visitors, but I think the map was too far out of the way to get much notice. I had intended for the frames to stand on the back of the table, but there wasn’t room for everything — they had to go on the floor instead.

Ideas for Improvement:
First off, the table was too small for all the stuff we brought along. It’s not that we brought too much stuff, but we couldn’t fit it all on a six-foot banquet table. Two such tables would have been more than enough (perhaps too much). Alternatively, had we brought along some means of hanging some of the visual aids from the front of the table, it might have solved the problem.

Standing behind the table really doesn’t work well. It’s better to stand in front of the table, as it allows you to interact more closely with visitors. It also means more display space, since you don’t have to leave a gap in the display through which to interact with visitors.

The members of the other group present, the Pontchartrain Astronomy Society, wore nametags which included the name of their organization and the wearer’s title within it.. This looked very professional — I regretted not having thought of it myself.

Another great idea the PAS had was to place thick stacks of single-sheet handouts on their table for curious visitors to take with them. The handouts came from the Planetary Society, and covered various interesting topics in astronomy. Based on my own experience (from the visitor side) at the World Space Congress last year, handing out interesting (or merely fun) freebies is a great way to generate traffic to your table.

Among these handouts should be a brief (single-sheet) guide for teachers — several teachers asked us for educational information about Mars, but sadly we had none to offer. Other handout ideas: the Founding Declaration, a nutshell explanation of Mars Direct and its variations, the possibilities for ISRU, various perspectives in the terraforming debate, water (and other resources) on Mars, how we can get to Mars, opportunities for educators and students (Haklyut Prize, research stints at the stations, etc.) and possibilities for life on Mars (common genesis, second genesis, ecopoiesis, etc.).

Updated pamphlets are needed (they exist — we just don’t have any right now), along with a pamphlet holder.

An idea I’ve batted around for nearly a year now is to build a set of folding frames. Lugging around a stack of odd-sized posters is awkward and inconvenient — it would be much better to take a pair of large poster frames and connect them with a hinge. Setup is as easy as opening them to a suitable angle and standing them on a table, teardown is as easy as folding the frames closed and carrying them back to the car. Aesthetically, it would appear more organized and professional than a hodge-podge of materials, and could be more informative as well (see below). I’ve put off actually doing this (despite nearly purchasing the perfect frames for this purpose about a dozen times now) because I wasn’t sure I’d get enough use out of the display to return the investment of time and money in building it. I suspect now it will be worthwhile, as there is every likelihood that we will be giving more presentations in the future.

To fill these folding frames, it would be useful to have a set of standardized sheets outlining the ongoing MS projects (F-MARS, MDRS, analog suits, analog rovers, ISRU, etc.). This would show visitors that we aren’t merely a talk-shop organization, that we are actually helping to develop the sort of knowledge that will be useful when we finally do go to Mars. It would also send the message that, should you get involved with the Mars Society, you too could take part in these or other projects, thus providing an incentive for joining. When I say “standardized”, I mean a “quad-chart” format or equivalent: each quadrant containing a specified piece of information or graphics pertaining to the project and its current status. Something like this would have to be worked at the organization level, though — it’s not the kind of thing a single chapter could really ask of the various ongoing projects. However, having such charts, their latest versions readily available on the MS website, would allow chapters to very easily include up-to-date information in their presentations and displays.

Your thoughts?

1 comment to Building a Better Table

  • Carl Carlsson

    Great job, guys. Learning from mistakes is often the most valuable part of the experience.

    The Houston Chapter had an event at the JPL Lunar Planetary Institute. I estimate we had about 600 people. Outside we had about 8 telescopes, and got some decent views despite the cloud cover. Inside we had several displays and talks by several NASA folks. I’ll see if we can get some pictures on our website before too long.