Virtual Recovery Town Hall Meetings can be great alternatives to in-person Town Hall Meetings. Many advocates began using a virtual format using video tele-conferencing services as a response during COVID-19.
“Town Hall” style meetings are not necessarily defined by a physical location, but as an event in which a politician or public official answers questions from members of the public.
These digital forums provide a space where decision makers like elected officials can listen to those they represent and share remotely about solutions around a predetermined topic.
Virtual Town Halls can follow a similar format to in person Town Halls. Recovery Advocacy Project has published a HOW TO: Organize a Recovery Town Hall Meeting with Decision Makers that is worth reviewing to get an idea of different formats you can follow for a Town Hall.
Let’s take a look at a few benefits to virtual Town Meetings.
There are a number of video platforms to choose from that would work for a Virtual Town Hall. Each has free versions with limitations, and also upgraded versions available for purchase that will make organizing easier as they include additional features. As you work with others to host your event, ask to see if anyone (or an organization*) has purchased any of these platforms with updated features.
Video Teleconferencing Platforms
Many recovery community organizers have had successful Virtual Town Hall meetings with Zoom, a teleconferencing platform.
Some of the features of Zoom that can be helpful in conducting your town hall include:
To set up a free zoom account visit www.zoom.us
A complete Zoom reference guide to scheduling, customizing, and running your Zoom meeting can be found here
The Zoom Support Page is here
Additional video platforms exist and can be used such as GoToMeeting and Google Meet but for the sake of this HOW TO, we will be focusing on Zoom. Feel free to browse these other options.
Organizing a Virtual Recovery Town Hall Meeting will be much easier with a team of other individuals that care about the same issues you do and want to highlight solutions. This is also a great time to do some outreach to some like-minded organizations in your area and state to gauge their level of interest. Some organizations may commit to promote the town hall, provide speakers, join your organizing team, or assist in inviting elected officials or special guests.
A good sized team for this project would be 3-6 individuals.
We encourage you to add members to your Organizing Team that:
When organizing a Virtual Town Hall it will be important to first discuss with your Organizing Team the size of your “Town”, or audience reach. This will also determine which elected officials you invite.
One of the benefits of doing the Town Hall through Video Teleconferencing is that you can expand beyond your community. Many Recovery Advocates have used Virtual Town Halls as an opportunity to reach people across their whole state.
Considering your audience reach and determining which Elected Officials to invite will become clearer if your Organizing Team chooses a topic.
When choosing a topic, consider some of the following criteria:
Some example topics for your Recovery Town Hall Meeting may include:
Based on the many events that have been organized all over the country by recovery advocates and organizations, the times that have had the most attendance had a Noon or 7PM start time on a weekday.
Be sure to schedule the event with enough time in advance to promote the event, gain media attention, and secure the invitees and selected advocate speakers. You and your Organizing Team should be able to plan a Virtual Town Hall in a little over a month if you meet weekly, but go at the pace that seems comfortable and realistic for the Team.
Creating an agenda gives you and your team something to work backwards from. It also helps to show others you are organized, agree on the timeframe of the town hall, and highlight the purpose of the Town Hall. For the time being, this step should be limited to just your team and potential speakers, but can be shared with the wider audience attendees closer to the event.
Here is a sample agenda:
After your team chooses a topic and considers the reach of your remote audience, make a list of the appropriate elected official(s) to invite and their contact information. You should be able to find contact information like emails, phone, or mailing addresses.
If your topic is specific to a local matter in your community work to secure your Mayor, Chief of Police, city council, or their staff.
If the topic is broad and can reach a statewide audience consider inviting your state Senator, state Assemblyperson, the Governor, Attorney General, Health and Human Services Commissioner, or someone representing their offices.
Here is a sample invitation you can use as a guide.
One of the most effective promotional tools will be a digital flyer for the Town Hall.
This step will make other organizing steps a lot easier. Keep in mind, this promotional tool can change as your committee organizes (For example: In the event you confirm Decision Makers or additional partners, you may need to add logos for non-profit or local businesses to the promotional flyer)
The tool could begin with a simple “Save the Date” and evolve into a version with more details, logos, and confirmed Decision Makers.
Here is a simple example of a flyer the Recovery Advocacy Project – Nevada team used.
The promotional tool can serve many purposes for your virtual town hall, including:
The promotional tool should include the following:
Recovery Advocacy Project can create an event using a great platform called Action Network to help with your RSVPs (which can work with Zoom links).
We can assist you in the RSVP process for your event by using this platform and can even help promote your Virtual Event in your state or surrounding community.
Email email@example.com and we will help.
Eventbrite is a free tool that allows people to RSVP to a virtual event.
Having an Eventbrite link associated with the promotional tool for the Virtual Town Hall has many advantages that includes:
Create a Facebook Event Page to boost your reach
For a step by step guide with pictures on how to set up a Facebook Event go here
Creating a Facebook Event Page has many advantages including:
The entire Organizing Team and partnering organizations should all work to invite locals on their Facebook Friends list.
NOTE: It is always good practice to have all your registrants located in a single place and have access to their contact information if possible so you or another member of your planning team can confirm attendance via email, text, or a phone call. If you create an event on Eventbrite there is an easy way in the “promotions” tab to automatically link your Eventbrite event to Facebook events. If you setup event registration through Zoom, Action Network, or a landing page, it’s not always best to create a second event on Facebook. Instead, share the link to where people can register.
Choose a moderator that is good at facilitating discussions, is familiar with recovery, can keep speakers in timeframe, inspires others, and is known in the community. You can add the moderators name to the promotional flyer.
Choosing a Call to Action will be important for your remote audience. Nothing is more frustrating for participants than having a long discussion with no purpose. The action gives a purpose to the Virtual Town Hall.
Consider the topic and assign a Call to Action. Some actions may include:
Many of these Calls to Action can be created on Action Network and coordinated with your Recovery Advocacy Project State Lead(s), or contacting the RAP team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
To see some sample digital actions go to the Recovery Advocacy Project Action Network.
Each state has its own Action Network Page to create actions, and those tools are available to you as a community organizer and your event Organizing Team.
Building relationships with local media can take time. Getting local media to cover your event reaches an audience outside the event itself.
Here are a few steps to take that will increase the potential of media turnout.
• Contact your list of journalists with event information with a human interest story. Personalize each greeting to attempt to build a relationship with that media contact.
• A good human interest story could potentially be one of your speakers for the event, a local advocacy effort, or a response to something the journalist covered in a past media piece.
• Your correspondence should cover why they should attend the Virtual Town Hall, the human interest story, and a contact for more information. You, or someone on your team should be a designated contact for media.
• Your Organizing Team may option to offer a trusted media contact the Facilitator role.
Here are a few articles to read that have additional pointers on getting local media.
The more prepared your team is the better. Below are some tips so you can be best prepared and run a flawless Virtual Town Hall.
Virtual Town Hall Preparation Tip Sheet:
(Check the boxes to learn more)
Send reminders to both the registrants and your panelists / presenters. This step is crucial and illustrates why it is important to collect basic registration information from participants if possible.
Make sure to have clear and consistent communication with your Public Officials, potential speakers asking questions, and your team in the days before the Virtual Town Hall.
Crowdsourcing questions invites participation. This will also allow the moderator to have a few questions prepared for the Public Officials, avoid awkward silences, and will break the ice to make participants comfortable in asking their own questions.
You can organize ahead of time to have some pre-submitted questions the moderator asks, some questions by pre-screened advocates to ask, then question on the fly from the remote audience. You can even send advocates that are willing to ask their questions live this link to help them shape their question with recovery friendly language from this HOW TO: Speak out as a Recovery Advocate
Trial runs with your Team (and one for Public Officials) before the actual Town Hall is smart and shows your team is organized. Each Team Member should have some sort of role during the meeting whether it is technical, introductions, or calls to action.
Make sure all speakers have good WiFi to avoid connection problems.
Encourage all in the trial run to use headphones for better audio, check for appropriate lighting, and consider non-distracting video background. You can also determine who the Zoom Cohosts will be to.
Decide whether it is helpful or distracting to have the chat option of Zoom open to all participants. Some people may be more comfortable submitting their questions in the chat as opposed to speaking at the town hall. You may want to limit chat duties to the hosts to avoid distractions. You can go either route.
Look into livestreaming the Virtual Town Hall meeting on other platforms like Facebook Live to reach a larger audience. Many conferencing and webinar softwares, like Zoom, have this option. Remember that depending on which conference software you’re using, you may also need to be monitoring both the chat and the comments coming in on the other platform.
During the Virtual Town Hall Tips: