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.

2 Responses to “How to Hold a Town Hall Meeting”

  • Herman Kuipers VA3QX

    To facilitate better understanding and more meaningfull discussion, where can we find some stats and RAC budget info?

  • As someone who was one of the OPP Public Information Officers who has attended a presentation by Peter on media relations some years ago, I can say that the points raised DO work IF put into place. (Peter, I still have the video of that scrum.)

    The recent reported occurrence at an ARC in the Kingston area underlines the need for RAC officials at all levels to know what they’re talking about and also know both how to present facts and to answer questions courteously, knowledgeably and candidly, without trying to hide anything.

    Any RAC official who goes into a forum of any sort to represent the RAC while not able to satisfy those simple requirements does so at his own peril and that of the RAC.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


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