Very often, I get invited to talk about health education and HIV prevention in public settings. Most of the public spaces I collaborate with are churches, medical offices and some consulates. What these venues have in common is that they have waiting areas for people seeking different kinds of services. When I engage the people responsible for these spaces in conversation, many times they ask for ideas on how to make the waiting area friendlier for a diverse pool of clients. So, today I’m talking about some ideas that seem useful for occupying clients’ attention and educating about health issues while they wait.
Videos are often a way to promote healthy practices or services, but sometimes the areas in which these videos are shown are noisy spaces, making the video playing on the TV affixed to the wall even more annoying. Recently, I went for a check-up, and while waiting, I noticed that the TV on the wall was playing silent movies. Silent movies, like those made famous by Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, actually create a more comfortable space, because those interested in the movie can watch it without being distracted by the conversation that their neighbor is having (loudly) on the phone. Playing videos with an awareness message is a great idea, but such videos might not always be appropriate for heavy traffic venues, or venues in which a multilingual crowd is gathered. I was very impressed with the use of silent movies in the waiting area because even those more interested in whatever is happening on their mobile device or tablet benefit from the fact that the often noisy TV is not competing for their attention.
While I support the idea of promoting health messages and services in waiting areas, I recognize that not all areas are appropriate for this purpose. Space can pose a challenge for presenters, because there might not be enough space or time for visuals, etc. One thing I can propose is to distribute literature about your message. After giving your pamphlets away, you can invite people to approach you individually with questions. I applaud the effort to use each possible opportunity to promote healthy habits and health-related services, but if you’re thinking about conducting a presentation in such a venue, you might want to take a look at the space first, and decide whether making a presentation is appropriate. If the space allows, you can actually set up a table, so people can approach you as they feel comfortable doing so.
A number of considerations confront health educators when making presentations, no matter what the venue, such as language barriers, space issues and, particularly, the idea of a “target population.” The information offered should be appropriate for the general public; if it contains messages or campaigns that target only a specific ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation, your efforts might not be as effective as with information geared toward a wide audience. If you’re a visiting presenter, one way to deal with this situation is to have a set of questions for the individuals inviting you to present, questions that range from the characteristics of the population in their waiting area, to objectives that your hosts might have in mind. Wanting to entertain individuals while waiting might be the beginning, but there should be other objectives, like promoting linkages to specific services or awareness around specific issues.
I’m not saying here that you, as a health educator, should refuse invitations to promote your services. Every opportunity should be welcomed. However, I believe that not all venues are appropriate for all kinds of presentations. Evaluating your goals as a presenter in light of the goals of your host will help you decide whether you should indeed make the presentation, what the best way to conduct the promotion of your message or services might be, or if you might want to consider referring a colleague who can benefit from interacting with this audience to use the opportunity to its fullest.

Written By: Daniel Leyva
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The Institute for Latinx Health Equity is a growing collaborative of public health researchers, behavioral scientists, community leaders, capacity building specialists and social justice advocates. We strive to disseminate information about issues pertinent to health disparities and inequity. Follow us, join us, comment and add your voice to ours.

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