For Young People

Build Skills:

How to be an effective activist

If you’re working to make a difference, you’re an activist. And activists are most effective when they know where they’re going and what they need to do. You can maximize your impact by involving others, managing your time and communicating your message well.
Know where you’re going

Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Create a simple vision of where you’re headed – what will the world look like if you succeed? Be clear about your mission – your aims and objectives.

What exactly do you want to achieve? By when? What staffing, support or funding will you need?

Involve others by removing barriers

Make your project or campaign welcoming and interesting to everyone. Show you respect and recognise people’s differences. When working with others, get roles and responsbilities agreed ealry and create shared guidelines for decision making and acceptable behaviour.

Go out into different community groups to speak with people – ask how they would like to get involved in what you’re doing. Make contacts in the community to help you do this. Think about the space you use to meet in. Is it easy to get to, with transport close by? How accessible is it to someone with a disability?

Manage your time

It can be tough to balance time for your project or campaign with stuff you need to do for your education, job, family or friends. You probably already have a busy life, right? Keep an eye on how much work you have and don’t take on anything new before thinking it through. It’s okay to tell people you’re too busy at the moment – maybe think of another way to help or tell them when you’ll have more time available.

Plan and prepare

Planning will help you to manage your time properly. Plan things as far ahead as possible. Use a calendar or diary to schedule meetings and important dates in advance. Include time to prepare for important tasks or events.

Create a plan B - what you will do if things don’t go how you wanted. Plan for different situations, so you can react quickly to any events or news.

Wherever possible, try and finish one task before you start another one. Prioritise tasks and keep to deadlines. Let’s face it, there will be some tasks that are just plain boring – these things still need to be done, so try and mix them up with stuff that’s a bit more fun, or reward yourself when you complete them.

Get your timing right – be aware of important things that are happening while you’re campaigning or working on your project. For example, state, federal or local government elections make a big difference to decision-makers or politicians. Keep an eye on news and current affairs.

Learn how to evaulate - that is, reflect on your goals and actions and know and show what you do.

Find resources

Think about what resources you will need - like time, money, equipment, access, knowledge and support. Where can you find the resources tyou need? Who can you approach to help you find them?

Make budgets and keep financial records

If you have money , plan your spending, keep a record of what you spend and why – it’s important to be open and honest so that people know they can trust you. A budget will show the amount of money you will need and where you will get it from. Create a budget spreadsheet that shows your income (all the money you receive) and your expenditure (all the money going out). Make sure to check your budget regularly.

Keep all receipts and any tax invoices for purchases. Keep this information somewhere that’s safe but easy for you to get to when you need it. Speak to your bank to find out how to set up a separate account for your project or campaign, to separate funds from your own money.

Develop good communication skills

An effective activist can communicate their plans and ideas well, to an audience or just talking to someone on the street. When explaining an idea or issue, tell people why you care so deeply about it, and convince them that they should too (or show them they already do!). Use a story framework – explain who (or what) are the heroes and villains of your project or campaign. Let people know how they can become the heroes! Use examples or comparisons to help clarify your ideas.

Good communication is about listening as much as talking, so check out these ideas for better listening skills.

If you’re presenting to an audience at a meeting or an event, dress appropriately for the occasion. Structure your talk with a beginning, middle and end. And stick to whatever time you have been given. If you use multimedia, keep it simple – don’t make slides with bullet points as a substitute for notes. In fact, avoid slides with bullet points altogether! Presentation slides are best with simple visuals – pictures or photos that will underline your points in the minds of your audience.

Try to keep your body still and talk slowly and clearly. Make your audience feel like you’re having a conversation with them, not reading to them. Use your natural voice and tone – no need to shout or use words you wouldn’t normally use, just be you!

Worried about getting nervous in front of a crowd? It’s perfectly normal. In fact, an audience will expect you to be nervous. Nerves can help improve your performance by giving you energy and keeping you sharp. Preparing and rehearsing your talk will help you feel more confident.

Want to know what makes a great presentation? Check out this advice from Chris Anderson – he’s one of the people behind the brilliant TED talks videos.

Learn your strengths and build self-confidence

An effective activist knows who they are and what they’re good at. This doesn’t always come straight away– you may have think about it for a while and check in with other people. Take a look at these tips for working out your strengths.

Being confident is about believing in yourself, trusting your ideas and knowing when to be assertive – being firm but polite and knowing when to say yes or no. Check out these tips for building self-confidence.

What you can do now

Anderson, C. (2013), ‘How to give a killer presentation’, Harvard Business Review, June 2013.

British Youth Council (BYC) (2010), How 2 Manage money, London: BYC.

British Youth Council (BYC) (2011), How 2 remove barriers that prevent young disabled people getting involved in activities, London: BYC.

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