Public forums provide an excellent means of presenting plans for developing a water trail to a community. Here are a few tips on drawing a good size crowd and structuring the meeting so it does not get out of control.
Drawing a Crowd
To draw a crowd, pull out all the stops:
- Encourage your partners to contact influential members of the community to support your meeting.
- Use the local press to announce your meeting. Most state press associations have a membership list on their website.
- Consider using a little controversy to bring fence sitters to the meeting. For instance, the Maine Island Trail Association attracted a record crowd to a forum with this message: “Come to an important public meeting that will affect your future access to Maine 's public islands!”
- Post announcements of meetings on local bulletin boards.
- Use a call-a-thon or phone trees to alert stakeholders.
- Send out postcards two months in advance and a meeting announcement three or four weeks in advance. To the folks who reply or inquire, send an agenda and other materials a week or two in advance.
Structuring the Meeting
Plan ahead so the meeting runs smoothly:
- Choose a neutral, convenient, and large enough meeting room .
- Greet people as they arrive, thank them for their interest, and provide nametags.
- Use a tight agenda that gets straight to the point.
- Use a facilitator to conduct the meeting and keep it on track.
- Have the organization's most succinct and dynamic speaker begin the meeting with a concise overview.
- Use other presenters whose information is critical. Allow questions and comments between presenters to avoid losing the audience.
- Use flip charts and other visuals to present topics you want the audience to discuss.
- Organize interactive sessions, including review of general maps of the area, to gather information from meeting participants on key topics such as existing and needed access sites, available facilities, points of interest, hazard areas, appropriate water levels, etc.
- Wrap up the meeting with a brief summary of conclusions, agreements, action items, and next steps. Do not over-promise.
- Reaffirm the importance of the public process and attendees' participation.
- Follow-up the meeting in a timely way by sending out minutes, a list of action items, and an announcement of the next meeting to community leaders and news organizations.
The Art of Facilitation
Your facilitator should make a point to:
- Call on as many attendees as possible (especially the quiet ones).
- Enliven the discussion.
- Consider setting ground rules for the meeting (such as one person speak at a time, and respect others opinions)
- Keep things on track.
- Be mindful of time.
- Allow for disagreement without contentiousness.
- Find areas of consensus.
- Gracefully manage the long-winded participants.
- Insist on being helped by a note-taker and a timekeeper