Public Meeting Planning Tips: Choosing a Meeting Format

15 07 2010

A public meeting does not have to be an open house or a large group presentation with Q&A. In fact, your project and your public would be better served to carefully examine your options for meeting format in order to determine how to best facilitate the meeting. Different meeting formats are better suited for different meeting purposes.

 So how do you decide on a meeting format?

  1. Determine the meeting purpose. What do you expect people to get out of the meeting? Moreover, as a project team, what do you want out of the meeting? Is your purpose to inform? To gather input? To deliver difficult news? Consider your audience, message, and any action you may ask people to take. Can information be presented or comments received another way? Do you really need a meeting? Until you know the purpose in meeting, your planning will flounder.
  2. Evaluate prior history. What is your audience accustomed to? If the group is used to large group presentation with Q&A, what is the risk of changing it up? What is the potential that they spontaneously demand what they are used to doing? Additionally, consider what your team is comfortable with. This includes understanding the team’s capabilities; do you have a strong presenter? Or in the absence of a good presenter, how can information best be delivered?
  3. Think through scenarios. Imagine your meeting in various formats. What do you think would work and what problems would arise? Who would get the most out of it? Who would have difficulties? Go back to your meeting purpose. What format best achieves your purpose in a fair and equitable way?
  4. Imagine the worst-case scenario. As you gravitate to a particular meeting format, think through the potential risks of what could go wrong, be frustrating or be missed. Can those frustrations be mitigated or can you live with them for the positive benefits of the format you choose? What can be done to minimize frustrations, such as providing a brief orientation to the room at the sign-in table or including a clear purpose statement on a welcome board or handout?
  5. Be confident and committed to the format you choose. Know your rationale for selecting the meeting format and what it helps facilitate. An open house, for example, facilitates individual discussions whereas a large group presentation allows everyone to hear the same information at the same time. The meeting will be effective if the format supports your purpose.

Next week: My story of two recent meetings