5 Tips for A Virtual Town Hall
A town hall meeting is a classic, effective way to discuss issues and promote conversation within a community, whether that community is a town, a company, a school, or anything under the sun. Town halls are especially helpful in the midst of an election, as they can be a great way for candidates to discuss their platforms and answer questions from voters.
Recently, we’ve made a collective shift to virtual gatherings, which means many town hall meetings are taking place online. This means that while the purpose of town hall meetings remains the same, those hosting and attending virtual town halls must adapt to the new format.
Below, we’ll share 5 of our best tips for hosting a successful virtual town hall that encourages conversation, promotes engagement, and drives action.
Take the time to prepare properly
Just like every other virtual event, virtual town halls pose the risk of a range of technical difficulties. The meeting can easily be disrupted due to these issues–and you can easily lose a lot of time to troubleshooting. That’s why it’s crucial to plan ahead, both technology and logistics-wise.
You won’t be able to help all of your guests prepare, but you can at least brief your speakers on virtual best practices to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. Ask them to make sure they join the meeting from somewhere with a stable internet connection that their webcams and microphones are working properly. You may also want to ask that they wear headphones.
Plan ahead when it comes to getting the word out as well. Start inviting people and posting about the virtual town hall on social media as early as possible to ensure the best turn-out, and include information on how to attend. It’s always a good idea to allow guests to RSVP and to send reminders with the meeting link ahead of time.
Get clear on your topic
While a virtual town hall is a chance to talk about issues that you and your community care about, it can be a bit chaotic to leave it open-ended. Instead, try to narrow it down to one issue that speakers and guests can focus on throughout the meeting. This will allow you to stay on a solid track rather than veering all over the place.
If there’s a major issue that needs to be discussed, it may be easy to choose a topic. But if you’re struggling to decide which topic is best, consider polling community members on what they’d find the most beneficial to talk about. This will also ensure that guests are engaged and ready to participate during the meeting because you’ll be discussing the issues that they care the most about.
Designate an MC to encourage engagement
The point of a virtual town hall is to allow those in leadership positions–or, in the case of political town halls, those running for office–to connect with community members. That’s why engagement from guests and audience members is essential to a successful meeting: guests should feel confident and comfortable sharing their thoughts.
To encourage this engagement, it’s a good idea to appoint someone to lead the meeting as an MC. The MC can be the host or someone else of their choosing. What matters is that they’re able to guide the meeting by introducing speakers, serving as a moderator, and encouraging participation from guests. The ideal MC will be someone who’s outgoing and able to make others comfortable sharing their thoughts.
Incorporate interactive elements
As we mentioned in the last point, guest participation is essential to a great town hall meeting. But it can be hard to keep participants engaged, especially when the meeting is taking place virtually; it’s much easier to be distracted and tuned out when you’re sitting on a device in your own home!
To promote more engagement and keep spirits high throughout your virtual town hall, it’s helpful to incorporate interactive elements throughout. Consider taking polls or even adding an element of fun by giving quizzes, playing trivia games, or posing icebreaker questions.
Make use of pauses in participation
It’s almost certain that there will be a few pauses between questions and feedback from guests at some point during your virtual town hall. While this can result in awkward silence if you or your MC are unprepared to handle it, it can alternatively be a great opportunity to let guests know how they can stay in touch and up-to-date on community news.
Remind everyone how they can keep in touch after the meeting, direct them to take action by signing up for a newsletter or visiting a website, and let them know where they can learn more about the campaign or topic you’re discussing.
While the host or MC is sharing this information, it also gives people more time to think and prepare their next question or comment!
At the end of the day, the success of a town hall meeting comes down to the conversation it promotes within a community. If you follow these tips, you’re sure to host an effective, engaging meeting for everyone involved.