Monthly Archive for September, 2010

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How to Hold a Town Hall Meeting

We’ve been holding a national town hall meeting on the RAC blog for the last couple of months. We’ve had lots of comments and wonderful suggestions. The comments on the blog have allowed the RAC leadership group the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions and answer individual’s questions directly.

The comments have also allowed us to accumulate a lot of opinions and information which will become part of the visioning discussions to be held in Ottawa in October.

Now some clubs are holding their own town hall meetings and here are some thoughts about how to have the most successful meeting possible. If you are the club president or you’re the town hall moderator, you might want to look at some of the suggestions about how to hold your meeting.

Here’s a good short document from Ezines @rticles site.

Here’s another from About.Com: Marketing.

Here’s one on how Not to conduct a town-hall meeting.

One of my jobs way back when was training police officers from across Ontario at local detachments and the provincial police college on how to conduct a media conference during highly charged public criminal investigations.

Untrained junior and even senior officers were finding press conferences to be overly confrontational and occasionally spun completely out of control entirely with incorrect information being released or mischaracterized by the media. Voices were raised and tempers flared. It was not a good situation.

Officers kept claiming that the “media” burned them when in fact they were walking into the fire voluntarily. I used to start my workshops with that statement. You can imagine how welcome those words were! But I said something else. I promised them that if they applied what was going to be talked about in the course they would never be “burned” again and might, in fact, enjoy, even welcome press conferences in the future. To say they were skeptical would be an understatement.

We don’t have the time or space to duplicate the course, so here are a modified top 10 tips I offered on to hold a public meetings:

  • Start on time and if possible have someone introduce you.
  • Always start your part of the meeting by reading from a short prepared statement of fact.
  • You can’t possibly know all the answers to all of the questions. When you don’t know something say so. Don’t guess. People will respect you for that honesty.
  • Do not speculate or tell stories as your audience will tend to question your version or may even openly disagree with you which will affect your credibility.
  • Do not characterize someone else’s behaviour. Don’t cast dispersions. Avoid talking about past errors or former members.
  • If there were problems in the past, acknowledge them and move on to what is happening now.
  • Always be respectful of the questioner regardless of how often the same question is asked or how obvious you think the answer is.
  • Don’t try to answer speculative, “what if” type questions or allow one questioner to hijack the meeting with a private agenda. Stick to your prepared statement.
  • Have the moderator end the town tall part of the meeting after no more than 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Engage individuals after the meeting in more direct conversation and offer to find the answers to their questions.

Club town hall meetings just like press conferences are a wonderful tool to engage the public (who in this case are the members of your club) in our national discussion about the future of Radio Amateurs of Canada. The meeting is not the place for rehashing old complaints or the airing of past grievances both real and imagined but is a venue for developing new ideas for RAC and the advancement of Amateur Radio in Canada. If we hold to those objectives, then you’re likely to have a very successful town hall meeting.

Oh and how did the training work with police officers? At a very large press conference involving a particularly gruesome, and at that time unsolved, murder which had panicked the surrounding community and was a top news story across the province, a senior officer who had taken the course stood up and over the din of reporters shouting questions calmly walked to the podium and said something to the effect of “Ladies and gentlemen: I am the senior investigator on this case. My name is Inspector _______ . It is my intention to answer all of your questions and to remain here until all of your questions are answered completely and to the best of my ability. Now I will start with the gentleman with his hand raised in the front row here. Yes you sir: Your question?”

You could have heard a pin drop.

Hoopla in Bangalore

Want to know how to get young people involved in Amateur Radio?

Here’s what hams in Bangalore India did when asked to create an event for Hoopla Club, a monthly Indian children’s magazine. Any club in Canada could do the same thing.

BTW Diane Eng, who writes for the very popular youth-oriented hackers magazine Make is a ham and a member of the ARRL’s large volunteer public relations effort. Here’s Diane’s archive page on Make online. (BTW notice Diane normally doesn’t even include her callsign in reports as it is meaningless to most of her readers and viewers. This is smart PR.) Checkout Diane’s Collapsible Fabric Yagi Antenna.

Finally, for those of us who need a few minutes of inspiration, I offer you Sugata Mitra, an educational scientist, who gave this talk on child-driven education at TED.

Hang in at least until the eight minute mark and prepare to be absolutely amazed.

Hurricane Earl

Jim Langille, VE1JBL, the president of Westcumb ARC and RAC section manager: Maritimes has sent a report to the ARES RAC reflector detailing the preparations that involved amateur radio operators across the east coast of Canada. Here’s a brief synopsis:

The CANWARN operation began at 6:30 a.m. with Derek, VE1WRG, putting out a report of Hurricane Earl and requesting check-ins to the net. At 7 a.m. Jim says he began operations in Amherst for northern Nova Scotia, Halifax, South Shore and Prince Edward Island. Two nets were already in operation in New Brunswick with net controllers Al Thurber, VE1AKT and Sterling, VE9SK.

As we all know now 200,000 Nova Scotians were without power as a result of Earl with Halifax taking the brunt of the storm. One fatality was reported by authorities.

The CANWARN system is just in the process of being set up and Jim says that Hurricane Earl turned out to be a learning experience for all involved. As Jim concluded in his email “It (Amateur Radio) is truly a great hobby.

It’s volunteers like Jim, VE1JBL and the crew in Eastern Canada that makes it so.

How to hold a future-vision meeting

Clubs in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are holding RAC townhall meetings this month where members will be invited to share their dreams about how Radio Amateurs of Canada can better meet the needs of future generations of licensed Canadian amateur radio operators.

We’d like to hear from the executives of other clubs about whether your club is planning a meeting to discuss what an ideal future would look like for your national association and maybe even your club as well.

The first thing I’d recommend meeting organizers do is read Parts One to Seven of John Bartlett, VE1OZ/HK3OZ’s transformational process documents before the club meeting. These seven parts outline how to create a future vision for RAC and describe the visioning process. The first seven parts are clear and concise directions and can be easily read in a few minutes of time.

In order to create the positive future-based conversation, it’s critical that all the comments be focused on a positive future. This means it is essential to refrain from entertaining comments about the past and what needs “fixing.” Some members of your clubs will find this a real challenge as in Western society we’re so used to identifying a problem and then coming up with a solution. (The engineers in your club will understand this issue.) But “fixing-thinking” is not helpful in this future-oriented process. See Part Two for how this happens.

In Part Seven of the transformational process documents John has a list of what needs fixing. We all know what needs fixing. So if you hear these topics coming up as issues, you’ll know you’re back into “fixing”. RAC has actually been pretty good at fixing problems as they get identified. Where we’re suffering is from a lack of collective understanding about where the organization could and should go. (You could say we’ve been good at doing a lot of things but we’re not clear if we’re doing the right things for the future of RAC and Amateur Radio.)

In short what we don’t have is a vision of what sort of association we’re creating for the betterment of all licensed amateur radio operators in Canada.

If people fall back into “fixing” or worse “blaming” talk, the meeting moderator must bring the focus of the discussion back to the future vision. As I said future visioning can be very uncomfortable for some folks but it’s what’s needed to create a successful visioning meeting. Members who are committed to reviewing past slights or reliving old battles can easily derail the visioning process. The visioning meeting isn’t group or a personal therapy session and members who insist on exposing their old wounds need to be encouraged to sit down. (Club executive members may wish to talk to anyone harbouring old feelings after the meeting in a one-on-one session over coffee. The floor of the visioning meeting isn’t the time or the place.)

Finally, every visioning meeting should have a scribe appointed to record in point form the positive future visions offered by the members and then send us the document for inclusion in the national visioning meeting coming up in Ottawa at the end of October. (BTW encourage your members to send their emails to us directly as well. All documents will be included in the Ottawa process.)

How's the membership campaign going?

Abysmally with several exceptions.

Why abysmally? Because some folks (who should know better) aren’t getting out to local amateur radio events in their communities and asking everyone they meet whether or not they are a member.

When I ask (like at the Contest Club Ontario‘s AGM and BBQ held last month) if the amateur says no I ask them to join me in supporting their national amateur radio association and I hand them a printed RAC membership form and a pen. If they say yes, I thank them for their support and shake their hand.

It’s that easy.

In the 2010-2011 membership campaign I am challenging all of you who read this blog to go out and ask 20 other Canadian amateur radio operators to join RAC. You can do this at your next club meeting, ARES group meeting, flea market or ham fest. If you have a Halloween patrol or festive seasonal club dinner coming up in a couple of months take some membership forms.

Now I’ve actually had hams take the time to send me long emails protesting that they’re already busy in ARES, NTS or RAC committee and they don’t see why they should have to get involved in selling RAC memberships. To them I say if you want to continue enjoying the activities you volunteered to do through RAC and enjoy so much then it’s in your best interest to ensure the long-term success of the overall association.  At your next meeting ask the hams in the room if they are members and if not ask them to support you and hand them a membership form. It takes about as long as sending me an email telling me you’re too busy to get involved :)

Oakville ARES emergency co-ordinator Rick Harrison, VA3NV, talked about RAC during a couple of recent meetings of the Oakville, Ontario ARES group. Rick made it a point on the agenda to mention RAC membership and the benefits of being a member. Two members of his ARES group joined RAC this summer. Thanks Rick.

Look here’s how it works: As I was typing this on Sunday afternoon we got a phone call from a campaign worker for our local councillor who is seeking re-election. She asked if we’d be willing to have a campaign sign on our lawn. I said no but thanked the lady for her call. All in all a pleasant experience and now the incumbent has made the first contact with us and we are left with a favourable impression of him and his team. Wonder if this might not be the entire point come voting day??

If you ask 20 amateurs to support you by joining our national association you’re going to get a couple of renewals or new memberships. If we all do our bit, our membership numbers will soar and we’ll find ourselves as members of a much stronger, robust and healthy organization.

The 2010-2011 national membership campaign for Radio Amateurs of Canada ends on the Field Day weekend of 2011. With club meetings starting up across Canada this month, I expect RAC will end up on more than one club’s agenda and I am counting on you to be there with membership forms in hand.

Transforming RAC – The Last Post?

John Bartlett, VE1OZ/HK3OZ, has sent us what appears to be his last post Transforming RAC – Part 15. In it, he encourages the RAC leadership to carry on with the process which he first introduced to us in 2008 and now has more fully revisited in 2010. He makes it clear he won’t be joining us in Ottawa and declares that as he is not a member of the board or the executive he feels he has no place at the discussion table which is not open to the general membership.

John’s efforts on our behalf have met with a spectrum of response from Canadian amateurs ranging from indifference, even hostility to elation and enrollment.

Personally I found in John a man of rare integrity and devotion to the hobby he loves. John had the courage to complete an incomplete process begun two years ago in Cornwall, Ontario at RAC’s AGM where he shared a process to determine the future of RAC. Now in 2010 he takes his leave by challenging each of us to express our own dream for RAC and Amateur Radio in Canada. I have enjoyed our almost daily chats via Skype and will miss the hours of discussion and debate that followed but I support him in his decision to step back now. He has done us a great service and I believe I can claim him as a friend and for that alone I am complete and grateful.

And since early July when John began this odyssey and his missives were published on this blog, you too have participated by the hundreds of views per day and scores of emails and posts.

So what lessons have we learned and what lessons await us?

First, as moderator of the blog, I have discovered that some of us live in the memories of the past which make seeing a vision for the future impossible. That is so sad but is says to me there is much healing of old wounds that has yet to be addressed. All of us in the RAC leadership group have a responsibility here to bring this about.

On the other hand, scores of you feel passionately optimistic about your hobby and RAC. This is so encouraging. I think many agree that the problems RAC faces are actually small and easily fixed if there is a desire to address the underlying issues and that’s to paraphrase Shakespeare “therein lies the rub.” Do we have the courage to look deeply into that which ails us or would it be better to end it all now as a few have claimed? To Shakespeare again: “To sleep: perchance to dream: Ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”

So what are the underlying issues? Let me tell you a story:

Ten years ago or so my local Toastmaster club, one of the oldest in Canada, was facing a similar crisis to what RAC is facing today. Our numbers were declining and we were having problems filling the weekly job schedule that makes a Toastmaster meeting work. (Toastmaster clubs need at least 20 members to be considered viable and healthy. Our club was barely reaching even these minimum standards.)

We decided to survey every guest past and present about their experience and what we discovered horrified us. We were considered by newcomers to be elitist, unfriendly, cold and intimidating. We were shocked as we realized we had lost our focus. In our passion to become better speakers, we had forgotten the newcomer standing at the door.

So now, years later, when you come to my Toastmaster club as a guest, our greeters will shake your hand, introduce you to an executive member and a senior member will be assigned to formally introduce you to the meeting assembly. They will sit with you to answer any questions you might have and at the end of the night, the membership chair will talk with you about joining the club. You will be invited back as our guest for two more meetings.

As we begin our 55th season, First Oakville Toastmasters begins the year with an unheard of 40-returning members and we anticipate closing the year with a record-setting 60 members which will make this club one of the largest in North America.

So can RAC create a similar cultural shift?

If we do, we can thank John Bartlett for showing us the way. And if we fail, then we shall see what dreams may come.

The Member As Customer

When the RAC board and executive group meets in Ottawa in October to discuss the future of our national association, what will be the focus of the meeting?

How about if we focus on the member as a customer?

So what does that mean? It means that fixing problems is all well and good but does it actually serve the customer – RAC’s members?

For example, does the much discussed governance model serve RAC’s customers in Quebec? With approximately 25 per cent of the Amateur Radio population in Canada how does it serve VE2-land to have one representative on the board?

How about The Canadian Amateur Magazine? It costs the members over $6,000 an issue to publish (so with six issues per year times $6K = $36K divided by 5,000 members = $7.20 a year out of your $55 membership dues).

If it went online with a PDF version there still would be the editorial and layout costs. (Despite calls to end paying positions no one with professional editorial, sales and publishing experience has yet to commit to doing the job.)

Would an online TCA serve the members if the magazine was available free to everyone (thus eliminating fears that someone could freely post it online)? Would that attract more paying members thus creating a stronger national organization?

Does it make any sense when it comes to time and effort to sell $50 ads to a handful of small amateur radio retailers? Will major manufacturers spend their limited ad dollars inTCA? Or does the advertising model even apply to in-house magazines like TCA?

It comes down to whether or not TCA serves the members.

What about non-members? RAC claims to represent all Canadian licensed Amateur Radio operators. But does it? Does it serve the paying members to ignore the needs of the non-members? That’s the model most clubs run on and rightly so as the members get the benefits but does it serve RAC’s members to exclude non-members thus weakening our claims that RAC represents all Canadian hams?

What about the costs of running a bricks and mortar office? Does it serve the members or would a virtual office work better for the members? (One of the reasons an office was created was to better serve the member’s needs around reaching a “real person” as opposed to a telephone answering device or service. The virtual office had its issues.) Does that still serve?

So why are the board and executive members coming to Ottawa (at their own expense BTW)? If it’s just to fix the old leaky administrative plumbing then what’s the point? What we end up with is expensive new plumbing but we end up drinking the same old tainted water.

What do you think the board and executive should discuss in Ottawa in October? What is your future vision of RAC?


It’s strange where we find some of our inspirational thoughts. I’m a long-time member of Toastmasters International and every month I get their glossy magazine which contains among other things a presidential message. This month’s edition features TI’s new International President Pat Johnson (who BTW is a Canadian from B.C.). Here are a few of the quotes that she uses in her inaugural address entitled Achieving Greatness Together:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds, your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”Patanjali Maharishi

The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be captive of the environment in which you first find yourself”Mark Caine

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already” - John Buchan

These quotes can help us to define the parameters of the October meeting dealing with RAC’s future for the goal is not to fix problems but to see a greater future for us all.