Stand Out in Your Outreach: Tips for Success at Health Fairs

Marta Erismann, at right.

How do you stand out amongst the crowd and attract and engage the public? Marta Erismann, our Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) Community Outreach Coordinator, can tell you. She is vibrant, innovative and successful in her outreach to diverse Medicare populations across the state, educating many about Medicare fraud and ways to protect, detect and report it. She’s been with California Health Advocates for 5 years, and creatively reaching urban and rural populations, people who speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Russian and Arabic.

At our April SMP conference and on a recent webinar with our SMP Liaisons, Marta gave a presentation on some great success tips for outreach at health fairs and other tabling events. These tips are summarized below and come from her over 25 years of community outreach, organizing and training experience both with CHA and in affordable and farm worker housing development. And while reading these tips are helpful, if you have a chance to meet and learn from Marta in person, you’re in for a real treat!

First, plan your outreach events

If you head up outreach to Medicare beneficiaries for your agency, first make a calendar of the outreach and health fair events you’ll attend throughout the year. A good initial resource is your local Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP). Ask them for a list of health fairs and events they are participating in.

If you’re not able to get a list through HICAP, or you work with HICAP yourself, develop your own list. Many health fairs repeat at the same time every year. Some ideas of places to contact include:

  • Your local Area Agency on Aging, as they often have a list of upcoming events each month.
  • Senior centers in your area; ask for the dates for their health fairs.
  • Your local Parks and Recreation Department as they also have a list of events.
  • Other organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, public health departments, junior colleges, universities, YMCAs or YWCAs, etc.

Second, prepare for your events

Marta suggests developing and memorizing a short pitch or message. It should be 30 seconds or less and should be memorized so you can say it easily at any opportunity with little notice. It should be as natural as saying your own name and shoe size. People move quickly at health fairs so having something brief and engaging to say is essential for hooking their attention.

Also, do a mock set up of your table to maximize your display space and appearance. Find out if you are sharing table with another organization, so you know how much space you have for your materials. Generally, you have 30 minutes or less before the first fair-goers start streaming in.

Lastly, have a gimmick to attract people to your table. Marta often has a raffle, using a fish bowl with many folded papers. Three to five of the papers are marked “prize” as people love winning something. Plus, the word spreads quickly that your table has a raffle. Some sample prizes include: water bottles, pedometers (from the California Medical Association), pill boxes or anything appropriate from a discount store.

Third, prepare your pre-packed “tabling box”

If you are in charge of outreach in your organization, chances are you’ll be doing lots of these events. Having a pre-prepared, designated box (along with a dolly –wheeled roller) with all your outreach supplies and a checklist inside will make it easy and efficient to pack and go. Your box may include the following items:

  • Tablecloth or banners. Small table clothes are usually better. Longer table clothes are difficult to handle and sometimes the logo doesn’t display correctly if it’s folded to fit the table. Tables are usually 6 feet long.
  • Display racks for brochures and handouts. These help the table look neater. Make sure to pack them carefully though, as they’re unattractive if scratched.
  • Business cards and holder.
  • Clip board with sign-up sheets and pens. Make sure to have a few names and e-mail addresses written in (even if fictitious) as many people don‘t like to be the first to sign up.
  • Brochures.
  • Handouts. If you have more than one handout , copy them on different color paper. Marta has her Spanish flyers in blue and pale purple colored paper, and her English ones in yellow and golden rod. This way she’s not searching around for the right language when a person is waiting right in front of her. Remember people move quickly at these events.
  • Tape, string, and magic markers.
  • Giveaways. Don’t put them all on the table at once. You can use just a few and replenish when necessary. Also, ask people to take only one; they can come back at the end of the fair in case there are any left over. And remember to smile while you say this!
  • Candies. Chocolates are best. Diabetic candies did not work for Marta. Only one or two people took them, and she carried the same bag of candies around for three years! Also, if children come by themselves to get candy, ask them to bring their mom or grandma to the table first. Some parents don’t allow their children to have candy.
  • Bowl/basket for raffle.
  • Raffle prizes as mentioned above.
  • Bottled water, snacks, sunscreen and a hat. Depending on what region of California you live in, bring layers. Many places can be chilly in the morning and down right hot in the afternoons. Also prepare for sun; sunscreen and a hat are a must!

At the Fair

Once at the fair, there are several simple and effective actions to take to ensure maximum success in your outreach. First, if you don’t have an assigned spot, set up your table in a high traffic area. If you have an assigned spot, request to be near the Agency on Aging, Social Security, Medicare or any aging related table.

Make sure you know your pitch. If you have volunteers staffing table, make sure they know the prepared pitch as well. You can practice it with them and even do some role play. It’s important to share your message (and variations of it) with each person that comes by. For example, one good pitch for SMP outreach is: “Did you know that $1 in every $7 Medicare spends is lost to fraud?”

Be proactive! Marta suggests you stand in front of your table and engage each person. Show your enthusiasm by smiling, making eye contact and delivering your pitch.

It is also best to staff the table with 2 people, even at small fairs. This way you can cover each other for bathroom breaks, lunch breaks and have time to network and meet other fair vendors.

Another important tip is to be proactive. Marta suggests you stand in front of your table and engage each person. Show your enthusiasm by smiling, making eye contact and delivering your pitch. If you are passive, people will pass you by. One common mistake people make is sitting behind the table reading, texting or being busy on their computer. Such activities non-verbally demonstrate to others that you’re not interested in the fair or the people and would rather be somewhere else.

Again, remember to have a clipboard and sign-up sheet. This is something Marta laughs about as she used to always forget these items. Why would she need a sign-up sheet, right? Yet, there is always someone that wants more information, wants a presentation, need materials to distribute, etc… And without a sign-up sheet handy, it’s too easy to be caught off guard searching for a scrap of paper to jot their name down. And then there’s the all-too-likely scenario of loosing that small piece of paper and spending time searching for it later. Having a clip board is convenient and makes you look prepared!

In addition, keep your table tidy. This also attracts people. Don’t put all your supplies out on your table at once if it clutters the space; put a few items out at a time and then replenish as necessary.

And most important, have fun! If you’re having fun, other people will too and they’ll be attracted to you and what you have to offer!

If you have any questions about these tips and her outreach strategies, and/or would like to schedule a Medicare fraud training with Marta, contact her at or 916-231-5113. See our Medicare Fraud section for more information on health care fraud and how to prevent, detect and report it.