How to Put Together an Issue Forum, Town Hall, or Tele-Town Hall
Issue forums, town halls, and tele-town halls are ways to gather people in your community and educate them about a specific issue. The basic steps for each event are the same, but you can customize the event depending on your audience and community. Focusing on campus safety? Consider having your issue forum or town hall on a college campus. Want to reach people across a large geographic area and can’t gather everyone in the same place? Then a tele-town hall might be the answer.
Below are some tips and tricks for planning an issue forum, town hall, or tele-town hall. As always, we’re here to help — consider us your resource and sounding board. If you’re not already in touch with AAUW’s public policy and government relations staff, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is an issue forum?
Issue forums are community dialogues on current AAUW issues. An issue forum is often organized as a panel discussion on the issue, with time for questions and answers.
What is a town hall?
A town hall meeting is similar to an issue forum, except it usually contains more time for discussion and less time for formal speakers. You may have heard of your U.S. representatives and senators hosting town hall meetings when they are home from Washington, D.C., but that’s not the only way to do a town hall. We certainly encourage you to attend those town hall meetings when they are happening in your area, but you can also organize your own meetings with local elected officials or experts on a specific issue. Another idea is to organize a town hall meeting for the exclusive purpose of bringing together diverse groups of people to discuss an issue, as opposed to inviting a special guest to answer questions from the audience. Sometimes the best ideas and connections come out of gatherings such as these!
What is a tele-town hall?
A tele-town hall meeting is exactly like a town hall meeting — except it happens on the telephone! This type of meeting is a great choice if your speakers or participants are spread out across the state, or if you want to have your event at a time when the weather might make it difficult for everyone to gather in one place.
Tips and Tricks for a Successful Event
Work with diverse organizations. Working in coalitions allows you to reach more people, increase AAUW membership, and gain additional exposure. The extra hands will help you divide the work so you can plan a bigger event, and each of those organizations has its own network within which it can publicize the event. Some of the people those organizations bring in may not be AAUW members, so that’s always a plus! Remember, any new member who joins AAUW at an event open to the public is eligible for a discounted membership through the Shape the Future program.
Schedule the event at a convenient time. Avoid religious or government holidays, dates when other community functions are scheduled, and business hours. Remember to take into account different time zones, especially if you are doing a tele-town hall meeting that will attract participants from a wide geographic area.
Choose an accessible site, preferably one that is well known and wheelchair accessible. Potential options include a local school, community center, or library. Think about places where you’ve held AAUW branch meetings or attended similar events. If you are organizing a tele-town hall, you’ll need to research conference call options instead of accessible meeting venues. Freeconference.com and Freeconferencecall.com are two sites that allow you to sign up for a basic, bare-bones conference call number that can accommodate anywhere from 150 to 1,000 callers for free. If you have the money to pay for a telephone service that would call all your participants at the time of the event and connect them to the conversation, then Stone’s Phones or a similar paid provider might be the right option for you.
Choose a topic for your event. It’s generally a good idea to choose one issue, but you can choose more than one if the issues are related. For example, your event could focus on women’s economic security, which could include equal pay, paid family and medical leave, or retirement security. Choosing the topic is important because it will help you determine which speakers to invite (see below).
Invite speakers. Invite speakers with demonstrated knowledge or personal experience with your chosen issue. Consider the goals of your program and invite the people you believe would best meet those goals. For example, if your event is focused on the importance of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, consider inviting a woman in that field who can describe the barriers she faces in her career. Invite speakers in writing (e-mail is fine) at least three weeks in advance. If you invite more than one speaker, be sure to divide topic responsibilities and ensure that the speakers know who will join them on the panel and the topics the other speakers will address. In all the invitations, explain AAUW’s mission and provide a link to your website or the national website.
Arrange for a moderator if you have a panel of speakers. A well-known, nonpartisan moderator who is respected in your community will generate interest in the event and add credibility. The moderator will open the event by introducing the speakers and issues to be discussed and will facilitate the question-and-answer session. Follow the same tips for inviting your moderator as you did for inviting your main speakers.
Generate an audience. Inform AAUW members of the event and encourage them to attend. Include the information in your branch newsletters, ask branch leaders to send an e-mail to all members, and make an announcement at your branch meetings. Send invitations to college/university partners, coalition partners, and other guests. Post about the event on Facebook and Twitter, and submit an announcement to free community bulletin boards in newspapers and community cable outlets. Contact AAUW’s Department of Public Policy and Government Relations at email@example.com about how we can help you spread the word by e-mail and collect RSVPs online.
Reach out to local media. Send a media advisory notifying the news media about your event three to five days in advance. Allocate central, unobstructed space close to electrical outlets for TV camera crews and reporters. See How to Work with the Media for a complete discussion of how to earn media coverage for an event.
Set up a check-in table at the front of the event. Have a few volunteers at this table to greet people as they arrive and check them in on an RSVP list or ask them to sign in. We’ve got a sample sign-in sheet you can use for double duty: It signs people in and signs them up for AAUW Action Network so they receive urgent updates about public policy issues.
Follow up. Thank the speakers and moderator with letters or phone calls to promote a good relationship. Gift memberships to AAUW or items from ShopAAUW are also a nice touch.
Resources to guide activists in advocacy efforts.
Connect with your elected officials about AAUW issues in a face-to-face meeting.
Want to meet with an elected official about a policy issue? Making a delivery to an elected official’s office is the answer!