During the month of August, the House and Senate will both be in recess, which means Members of Congress will spend a great deal of time working in their district offices. This is a great opportunity for you and your local group to engage with the Member. Town hall meetings are an excellent forum to come together as a community and ask questions about policy issues that affect everyone.
This brief guide provides ideas for how to plan and organize and effective town hall meeting in your local area. Organizing your own town hall meeting is especially important if your Member of Congress is not planning to hold any meetings during the recess.
PLANNING FOR THE TOWN HALL MEETING
- Now is the time to begin planning your August recess town hall. You will need several weeks of lead time, especially if you hope to have a Member of Congress participate.
- Create an agenda for the town hall meeting. Identify the major theme. You may want to focus your town hall on one of these broad themes: the IRS scandal, immigration reform, or ObamaCare.
- Identify a moderator. This person should be well-versed on the subject and able to keep the conversation going.
- Secure a location.
- Invite your Member of Congress to participate. You may also want to invite other elected officials, depending on the topic. State and local government officials may be interested in participating. (Note: If your representative is unfriendly to the tea party movement, you may have better luck convincing him or her to participate if you co-host the town hall meeting with another group. Just be sure to thoroughly vet the organization and make it clear that it is a partnership and that your group wants to be a co-equal planner.)
- Advertise the event. Use social media to reach a broad audience. If any elected officials are participating, encourage them to send out an email to their email lists.
- Invite members of the press. Contact your local radio show hosts and tell them about the event. If you have relationships with any local journalists or bloggers, extend a personal invitation.
- Encourage attendees to submit their questions in advance of the meeting to help manage time. You may want to set up a dedicated webform or Google Survey to keep track of submissions.
- Create a back-up list of questions to ask if there are breaks in the conversation at the meeting.
- Prepare any handouts or documents to distribute at the meeting.
WHAT IF MY MEMBER REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE?
- If your representative will not participate in a town hall meeting, you may still want to host a town hall meeting.
- If you do host a town hall meeting without your representative, be sure to publish a press release and write a letter to the editor. Mention that the people in your town came together to discuss a certain issue of mutual concern, but your Member did not want to participate.
DURING THE TOWN HALL MEETING
- Welcome attendees and the guest speakers. Thank everyone for participating.
- Introduce the moderator and the guest speakers.
- Explain the agenda. If using a PowerPoint presentation, display the agenda so everyone knows how the meeting will be organized.
- Explain the purpose of the meeting and the chief objectives.
- Allow the moderator to guide the discussion and open with brief remarks and a few questions for the guest speakers.
- Allow audience members to ask questions. Remember that the purpose of the town hall is to provide a forum where citizens can get answers to their questions, so allow as many people as possible to ask questions.
- Don’t allow anyone in the audience to monopolize the microphone. Maintain a set time limit for questions.
AFTER THE TOWN HALL MEETING
- Thank everyone for attending.
- Encourage everyone to sign up with their email addresses so they can continue to hear from you.
- Distribute a survey (either in person, or online) with questions about what the attendees liked about the event and what could be improved.
- If there are any actions that need to be taken as a result of the town hall (e.g. specific actions that the Member of Congress will take), write those down and follow-up with the appropriate people. Once progress has been made, email the attendees an update.
Download the Town Hall MeetingDownload the Town Hall Meeting Guide