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skeptic - promoting Randi as a speaker

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  • Eric Krieg
    The following is a write up by Paula Crock on how her group lined up James Randi to speak at Penn State. It think it would be great to make something like
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 1999
      The following is a write up by Paula Crock on how her group
      lined up James Randi to speak at Penn State. It think it
      would be great to make something like this happen: It would
      bring money to Randi, help students get exposed to critical
      thinking and possibly get great publicity for any skeptics
      group making it happen. Let me know if anyone is up for
      trying to do something like this.

      Arranging a James Randi Lecture, by Paula Crock

      The Penn State University Skeptics Club began with two coffee-shop
      regulars, Stephen Cumblidge and myself, who met to grumble about the
      rampant irrationality around us. Late in the summer of '97 we
      established a University Club with the handful of like-minded students
      we found. The Club's early activities included creating photos of a UFO
      over the University President's office building, presenting some
      unwelcome facts at a creation science lecture, and attending a Penn &
      Teller performance. While very enjoyable, these activities did not
      fulfill our Club's desire to provide a high-profile skeptical voice on
      campus and in the surrounding communities. We were a small group but we
      decided to dream big, and skepticism doesn't get much bigger than James
      Randi. The following is a report of the work our Club put into
      arranging and hosting a James Randi lecture at Penn State University,
      including funding, scheduling and contracts, logistics and advertising.

      First and foremost in arranging for a lecture is, of course, funding.
      Our Club's $7,000 budget for the lecture included Mr. Randi's $5,000
      speaker's fee (which goes to the James Randi Educational Foundation),
      plane tickets, hotel, venue rental and advertising. Most of this money
      came from the University. Penn State charges all students a
      $36/semester Student Activity Fee which goes toward student events,
      speakers, construction of a new student center and other programs. Our
      budget request was a small drop in the Allocation Committee's $1.8
      million bucket of total revenue, and it was approved with apparent ease.
      Penn State University clubs are lucky in this respect, but student
      activity fees are not unique to PSU and funding may be as readily
      available at other Universities. We received additional financial help
      from a local bookstore and, when we ran out of those funds, from Stephen
      and myself.
      The next item on the lecture to-do list was the scheduling and
      work. Our first task was to find a date that both Mr. Randi and the
      auditorium we had selected were available (and not on a
      home-football-game weekend, and not too near the holidays, and not
      during midterms, and hopefully early enough to avoid snowstorms, and´┐Ż).
      Next we had to concurrently get the contract signed by both parties and
      schedule the venue. We had no problems on Mr. Randi's end; Angela
      Easton, Mr. Randi's agent, was helpful and very understanding of the
      problems we were having on the University end. In its defense, the
      Allocation Committee was revamping its regulations and the event
      scheduling procedures, but they did create a big headache for our Club.
      We ended up in a Catch 22 situation - the University would not sign the
      contract until we had a venue scheduled, but the event coordinator would
      not schedule the venue for us until we had a signed contract. With a
      little fibbing about having a confirmed venue we got the contract
      signed. However, when we tried to reserve the venue the coordinator
      suddenly remembered she had agreed months ago to give it to another club
      on that date. With some pressure and browbeating on our part she
      eventually gave us the venue, but at $200 more than her quoted maximum
      The remaining logistical items of A/V equipment, hotel, plane tickets
      and event-day scheduling involved much less work but were still cause
      for grief to some extent. Mr. Randi's lecture equipment needs were
      minimal, and the auditorium staff handled that for us. We specifically
      scheduled the lecture around football games so that we would have no
      trouble reserving a hotel room. We had some trouble with the plane
      tickets, however. Stephen and I used an on-line agency, confirmed twice
      that we were going to receive first class tickets as per Mr. Randi's
      contract, but we received coach-seating tickets. We felt we had been
      scammed by the agency, so we requested a refund and purchased tickets
      elsewhere for $300 over budget. Finally, the Club wanted to host a
      reception on campus for Mr. Randi after the lecture, but that proved to
      be too expensive - $6/person for coffee and cookies. We settled instead
      for good snacks and drinks at a private residence in town, but the
      lecture ran so late with questions that the reception was canceled
      The final and very crucial task for our Club was advertising for the
      lecture. We were challenged, working with an evaporating budget and
      little experience from our members. After some intense brainstorming we
      selected a few excellent and successful ideas. We had the lecture
      announced for free in community-events announcements on campus and local
      radio stations. We received free advertisements through two campus and
      one local newspaper features on James Randi and his upcoming lecture.
      Our Club's web page provided free advertising and also reached a wider
      audience. We designed our own posters and fliers at minimal cost and
      plastered town and campus with them, focusing on bookstores and
      high-traffic-area bulletin boards. We were also allowed to put posters
      and filers in display cases outside the auditorium for free. The
      remaining budget money went to advertisements in the student newspaper.
      The rule we learned was to find the proper people and simply ask for the
      airtime, wall space or a newspaper article. It usually worked.
      As a result of our hard work and dedication the Skeptics Club hosted a
      very memorable and successful lecture. The Club met with Mr. Randi and
      our invited guests in the afternoon, and then the officers took Mr.
      Randi to dinner. The turnout for the lecture was a nearly full house of
      750 to 800 very receptive students, faculty, locals and guests, the
      majority of whom stayed for the Q & A session. Afterward, we were
      stunned - our little Club managed to bring one of the giants of the
      skeptical movement to our University and fill the auditorium with a
      receptive audience for him! The Club received many thank-you emails and
      comments plus several new members. Due to the publicity from hosting
      James Randi's lecture, the Penn State Skeptics Club is becoming a
      well-known voice on campus and in the surrounding community.

      Note: more information on this stuff is available from Randi at:

      Eric Krieg

      eric@... fax (215) 654-0651
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