PUBLIC MEETINGS

If you've tabled enough to build up an e-mail list or social media following of 100 or more people, you may want to hold a public meeting. There are several good reasons to hold a meeting: to form a local group, to show an animal or environmental film, or to have a speaker urge people to take action on a particular issue. Be sure you're clear about the purpose of your meeting, as this affects how you plan it.

SETTING THE DATE

If you are inviting a speaker, first call and find out when he or she is available. If you intend to show a film or video, find out when you can get it and what equipment you'll need to show it. These factors will determine the date of your meeting. Before you finalize the date, call the parks and recreation department, chamber of commerce and area schools to make sure your meeting doesn't conflict with any major sporting events or local community gatherings. Give yourself at least six weeks to get ready.

FINDING THE RIGHT SPOT

Most cities have rooms or auditoriums in libraries, community centers or government office buildings that local groups can use free of charge. Try calling the "facilities management" office of the city or county government, or the mayor's office. Universities have excellent facilities, including auditoriums, that students and faculty members can often use free of charge.

Send in any required permit applications as early as possible. It could take several weeks to get an application approved, especially if it has to be submitted to a monthly town council meeting. If you are denied a permit, politely ask exactly why, then try to enlist a lawyer to call and appeal the denial. If you can't find lawyers who will volunteer their services, call the nearest office of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). They may be able to help.

If you can't find a government or library room, try renting a room from a church, the YMCA, an event center or a school. In any case, go and see the room first. It's better to have a room that's a little too small. A crowded room will make the meeting seem more successful than a large, half-empty room.

PUBLICIZING THE EVENT

Once you've got the date, place, topic and speaker chosen, you're ready to publicize your meeting. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Distribute and post flyers.

  • Create social media event pages.

  • E-mail details to the people on your contact list.

  • Make a public service announcement over the radio or on TV.

  • Get a newspaper listing in the "event" or "calendar" section.

  • Send a news release to local newspapers.

Most radio stations feature a community bulletin board to air free announcements of local events (called public service announcements or PSAs). You'll have to call each station to find out its policy and time limit (usually 20 seconds) for these announcements; they sometimes require a typewritten or e-mail notice up to a month in advance. Local TV stations are also worth checking for free announcements.

Newspapers often offer free services to publicize community group events. Try both the established publications and the small, local papers. Once again, you may need to send a written or e-mail notice a few weeks ahead of time.

Get others involved to help post flyers, make some telephone calls, spread the word on social media or help you set up the meeting.

If your speaker is willing, try to schedule talk shows or newspaper interviews while he or she is in town. 

CONDUCTING THE MEETING

Most of us are nervous on the day we're doing something special or new. While you may not be able to avoid being anxious, you can eliminate some worry (and maybe avert some misery) if you are well prepared.

  • A few days before the meeting: Call your speaker to confirm the date and time he or she is expected. Find out how the speaker would like to be introduced, and take a few minutes to write and practice the introduction. Confirm your room rental. Make sure your equipment is reserved and that you have adequate extension cords to hook up the equipment.

  • The day of your meeting: Arrive at the room at least an hour ahead of time. Set up the equipment you'll be using and make sure it works. Lay out literature on a table in the back of the room, and arrange chairs near the front of the room.

  • As people arrive: Be at the door to greet people. Circulate a signup sheet, but remove it when the meeting is ready to start.

  • Introduce the speaker to start the meeting and thank him or her at the end of the meeting. Ask people if they've added their names to the signup sheet, and thank them for coming to your meeting. Urge them to get involved. Give them something specific to do: write a letter, make a telephone call, share your social media pages, or hand out leaflets. Always end on an upbeat note.

  • A few days later, send a short thank-you to your speaker; you may want to invite him or her again.

  • Send a follow-up message suggesting specific actions to people who attended the meeting, and be sure to add any new contacts to your mailing list. Post photos and videos of the event on public media.