How to host a virtual town hall?

The Play

Host a virtual town hall that provides youth or staff an opportunity to ask questions.

Who Can Do This

Anyone can host a virtual town hall. Organizations, agencies, youth groups, and community leaders can address large audiences that they serve.

Cost

Free.

Most platforms are free with small audiences. A subscription may be necessary for audiences 100 and over, but platforms usually come with a free trial.

Timeframe

It can be organized as soon as a week. If coordinating with other parties, organizing timeframes may be closer to two weeks. This will provide ample time for marketing, gathering information, registration, and scheduling.

Difficulty

Easy.

The Problem It Solves

A virtual town hall provides the space to deliver critical information and directly address concerns of the audience. A town hall can be utilized for numerous circumstances. For example, town halls have been implemented as an opportunity to hear directly from those that are impacted by COVID-19.

Recording town halls is a best practice and allows for information to reach individuals that could not attend the event.

How To Do This

1. Gauge your audience’s top priorities

It is important to understand, and attempt to anticipate, the main concerns of the audience to maximum impact. Every participant question may not be answered, but attempt to address recurring areas of concern.

2. Create a registration form, and include an option to submit questions or concerns.

Registration forms can bring problem issues to light and give a rough estimate of participation numbers, and platforms like Survey Monkey can be used.

In the registration form and marketing materials, provide a high level overview of the topics that will be covered. It may be helpful to mention the target audience for each town hall, as the needs and type of information shared may differ. This will also help tailor key messages. Include 1-2 optional questions on the form that invite any questions or concerns.

3. Provide collaborators sufficient time to prepare.

Participants should be given the most up to date information. When collaborating with other agencies or organizations, it is important they are given enough time to gather the appropriate information.

4. Host separate town halls for separate audiences.

Different audiences have different needs. Do not try to answer staff and youth questions in the same town hall. A one size fits all approach will not work. Explicitly mention the audience the town hall wishes to target.

5. Find a platform that can accommodate a large audience.

Make sure to have a subscription that will accommodate the number of dial-ins you need. GoToWebinar Enterprise can provide 1,000 simultaneous dial-ins. Should you reach max capacity, consider recording your town hall and provide a space for the public to view.

Use a platform familiar to your users.

  • For a youth audience, consider using Instagram or Facebook Live to host a town hall. When marketing your town hall, you should utilize these platforms to maximize your reach. Facebook also has a variety of tools to gauge your audience's priorities. For example, Facebook includes options to create polls and surveys.

  • For a workforce, use a platform like GoToWebinar or Zoom that includes a dial-in option.

6. Designate a town hall host.

This person will be in charge of any technology functions for your town hall. The individual will be in charge of screen sharing (if applicable) for the presenter(s); mute noisy participants; answer technical questions in the chat; and play pre-recorded video questions. It is difficult for one person to present and host.

7. Designate a proxy.

Protect the privacy of audience questions when sensitive questions arise. For example, if a homeless youth is asking about housing resources, designate a proxy such as a volunteer foster youth alumni or youth advisory board member to ask the question in their place.

If audiences have further inquiries, encourage questions to be placed in the directed chatbox or refer to a point of contact such as an email or website. This may inform other town hall priorities.

8. Closed-caption video recordings.

People of all abilities should be able to access the content.

9. Test-run.

This will allow any technology troubleshoot to surface ahead of time and provide time to find solutions. If collaborating with others, be sure to coordinate a time to include them on a test run and have an overview of the town hall agenda. Ideally there should be two test runs. The first test run should be the day prior to the scheduled town hall or earlier. The second test run should be the day of the town hall.

10. Follow-up with attendees.

Send an email thanking attendees for their participation. Include a link with the recorded town hall, transcript, and supporting documents used and discussed in the town hall.

Outcomes

Hearing directly from system overseers and reliable sources can build trust, calm fears, and cut through the noise with direct answers.

Who’s Already Doing This?

Think Of Us Town Hall

Think of Us used GoToWebinar Enterprise to host national virtual town halls with Associate Commissioner Dr. Jerry Milner from the Children’s Bureau on March 19, 2020, and April 16, 2020.

National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) Town Hall

NYFI used GoToMeeting during their beginning town halls, and later shifted to using Zoom. NYFI has hosted weekly town halls since the month of April with many guest speakers including Congressmember Don Bacon, Congressmember Brenda Lawrence, and Keyshia Cole.

Resources