Holding a public meeting might seem like a huge task, but it will bring a lot of benefits to your group. Public meetings are a really useful tool for raising awareness of a campaign and getting the public interested in an issue. A very desirable side effect of this is that you might find enthusiastic new recruits for your group!
To get the most out of your public meeting, here’s what you need to do.
Before you start organising
It might seem obvious, but pick an issue. Do you want to organise an event for an Unlock Democracy campaign or a local issue.
Before you even start organising, it’s a good idea to think things through. Ask yourselves the following questions:
What do we as a group want to get out of this meeting?
What do we want the audience to take home from the meeting?
What sort of audience do we want to attract?
How interested are the public in the issue?
Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you organise. Public meetings work best if you understand your potential audience.
Most public meetings take the format of a panel of three or four speakers, and a chair. It’s often easiest if a member of the group chairs the meeting to keep things going and ensure you meet your objectives (see guide “Facilitating and chairing meetings” for extra guidance), but it might also make sense to bring in a local celebrity to chair (e.g. someone from a local radio station, a sportsperson or community leader). This might bring in a bigger audience. Knowing your own area well will help you make this decision.
As for your speakers, it’s good to book people with a broad range of opinions to attract the broadest possible audience. This also means the panel won’t spend an hour agreeing with each other, which can make for a pretty tedious meeting. Make sure at least some of the speakers are known in the local area--MPs and councillors are often a good choice. Again, this will help you attract a greater audience. Local campaigners for related issues are also good potential speakers.
Booking a venue
Your venue needs to meet a few crucial criteria:
It needs to be the right size--not too big, but not too small. Be realistic when estimating how many people will attend: you don’t want to book a space for 200 people when there’s only likely to be 30 audience members!
It needs to be accessible. Ideally, the venue should have wheelchair access and Audio Induction Loops for deaf guests. For bigger meetings, a creche might also be necessary.
It needs to be easy to get to! Somewhere near the town centre is ideal.
Use every tool in the box to spread the word about your meeting far and wide. Put up posters, hand out flyers, advertise in local papers, radio and TV (send out press releases about the event in advance as well). Do a bit of research to find out who in your area might be interested in coming, and invite them personally by email. Members of the group can spread the word by word of mouth to everyone they know.
When promoting the event, make sure you emphasise the following things:
A punchy title for your meeting
Where the meeting is going to be
When it is going to be
Who is going to be speaking and chairing (don’t be afraid to “lead” with your most famous speaker!)
On the day
Be sure that there’s at least three or four people around to help with the meeting. Arrive at least an hour early to set up. Set out chairs and make sure all the sound equipment works. It’s also a good idea to have a refreshments table so when people start arriving they can meet each other and talk. When the speakers arrive, welcome them introduce them to each other and remind them of the meeting’s objectives. Speakers should arrive before the public!
As the public arrive, greet them at the door and provide them with a warm welcome. You might want to hand out leaflets inviting them to join your local group.
Try to ensure everything starts and finishes on time. As the audience is leaving, give them a friendly goodbye and thank them for coming.
After the meeting
The first thing to do is congratulate yourselves and the group. You’ve managed to successfully organise a public meeting!
After the meeting, be sure to write to all of your speakers and thank them. If you have the budget, it’s often nice to give them a small gift like a bottle of wine or some chocolates as a token of your appreciation.
It’s worth having a group meeting soon after the public meeting to debrief. Reflect on what went well, and what could be done to improve things next time.