How to Avoid Someone with a Clipboard

You know that moment when you’re walking out of class, headed past the Union to the parking lot or the dorms? More often than not, there’s someone with a clipboard or a pamphlet, desperately trying to get your attention on the central campus pedway.

For the better part of last year, I was one of the people making “Y-M-C-A” arms, trying to get you to talk to me, clipboard firmly in hand. Months passed this way; I fought for the eye contact of every person within reach, with very low rates of return. Even people I knew in my classes or past co-workers didn’t seem to recognize me. All that remained to be seen was a small blob with posters and flyers. In the face of this dilemma, I have to wonder: have you ever tried talking to a canvasser?

My personal experience lies in political canvassing. I was tasked with promoting voter registration on campus: I infiltrated classrooms, club meetings, and parking lots, but my main objective was to plant myself with a clipboard and a stack of voter registration forms outside the Union. I pulled students aside to persuade or help them update their voter registration for the 2018 midterm election.

Three categories neatly encompass the majority of canvassing purposes: political, religious, and extra-curricular. A political canvasser could be trying to promote a party preference or participation in an upcoming election. A religious organization would likely be promoting their church or a specific event sponsored by their church. Then, of course, there are extra-curricular clubs on campus working to promote an event or project happening near or on the NAU campus. The commonality between all three of these groups is that they are taking the time out of their day to speak about certain issues or events because they believe it’s important.

Whether in reference to religion, politics, or extra-curricular intent, propaganda can be polarizing. Especially when the propaganda swarms all at once. Let me just say, college students have the most odd reactions when they think a stranger is trying to sell them something. I’ve observed that there are basically five types of people who try to avoid talking to canvassers on campus, and we’ve all demonstrated at least one of these behaviors.

“The Business Mogul”: They speed-walk right past the line of canvassers, in the middle of a very intense, fake phone conversation. I totally get it--they’re titans of industry, no time to stop and chat. I ignore the loud rap music blaring from their earbuds which are still dangling from the end of their phone and leave them on their way.

“The Drifter”: These people are sneaky. They smile from a distance, typically take the flyer, and we exchange a brief moment. Then, they realize that I’m interested in having a conversation with them. I can see the “oh shit” look in their eyes while they scramble to figure out an escape. Their brains freeze, so they just start trailing off in a hushed frenzy and usually return the flyer without making eye contact.

“The Action Hero”: These are the people who flee from the situation at all costs. They sense me from half a mile away and purposely walk on the other side of the pedway to avoid me. Then, they realize one of my co-workers is on their side of the pedway. There’s nowhere to go, except the bike lane. That’s right--I have actually seen people walk in front of bicycles going 15 MPH to save themselves from my flyers. It made me rethink my marketing strategies.

P. S. Please don’t do that.

“The Michael Scott”: I’m sure we’re all familiar with Michael Scott from The Office. In one scene, he starts screaming “No” at the top of his lungs. This type of person will abandon all social rules if it means not having to engage with a canvasser. They are almost always sitting in the public place that my team is occupying. When I approach them with my clipboard, a death glare washes over me. In one circumstance, I turned around to look at someone on the steps behind me who was scrolling through his phone. I took one step towards him with a smile on my face, and his eyes widened. He put down the phone and started screaming at me, “NO, I’M NOT INTERESTED. I DON’T WANT IT,.NO, NO, NO. I DON’T CARE ABOUT VOTING!,” So, I dropped my clipboard and turned around. He immediately went back to calmly browsing his phone.

“The Silent Witness”: This is the most polite way to avoid a canvasser. It is simple, yet effective, and I highly recommend it for those who are disinterested in speaking to strangers with flyers. Elegant and understated--the choice of many who wish to avoid canvassers when they’re in a hurry. They smile or provide a subtle nod of acknowledgement and politely say, “No, thank you.”

Interactions with strangers can often be awkward, for both the person approaching and the person being approached. Fellow students, I’d like to remind you that canvassers are people, too. Nobody takes pleasure in pushing flyers into their peers’ hands in cold weather on a Thursday afternoon. If you don’t want to engage in conversation with them about that topic, just say so, politely. No need to speed-walk, avoid eye contact, or risk a bicycle accident.

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