By Laura Whitman, APR, Community Relations Consultant
Let’s face it – we’ve all seen attendance at public meetings dropping. People have had more places to be, more things to do, and carving out time to attend public meetings is a challenge. As a result, interest in holding online public meetings has been growing and before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place, our team had offered them as an option to our clients. Now though, hosting online public meetings is no longer merely an option – it’s a necessity.
Thinking in terms of public outreach and engagement, we see advantages in the fact that most of us are now managing a significant portion of our lives via the Internet. The public’s comfort with interacting with others online is increasing exponentially. They are much more familiar with online meeting technology and better understand the process. Meeting platforms themselves are improving so much each day that conducting effective virtual public meetings – and documenting the questions and comments received – is now becoming almost as easy as just clicking the right boxes. (Well, maybe we aren’t there quite yet, but we’re getting much closer.)
Looking forward, we at Rasor are sure that virtual public meetings are here to stay. And though we may not ever abandon in-person public meetings completely, virtual public meetings will likely become integral parts of all public engagement toolkits from now on.
To help get the most out of these engagement opportunities, we’ve talked with our clients, providers, industry experts, and our own team to compile some best practice tips for each stage of the meeting process. By putting these into action, we’re sure that your next meeting will be a roaring success.
Before the Meeting
- Set the stage. Define the meeting’s format in your notification materials and explain how to submit questions and comments, and how they will be addressed.
- Post meeting materials (agenda, maps, videos, etc.) online. Share links in your notification materials.
- Invite participants to submit questions before the meeting. If possible, structure your presentation to include answers to those questions.
- Practice. Practice until your transitions between presenters, maps, videos and other multi-media elements, as well as managing Q&As from participants, appears seamless.
During the Meeting
- Explain the meeting’s format, how to submit questions/comments, and when questions will be addressed.
- Integrate live audience response tools to gather valuable participant data (and demonstrate you are listening).
- Deliver your presentation, then answer questions.
- Set a time limit for the Q&A session. Assure participants that any questions not answered live will be addressed within two days. Follow through.
- Record the full session.
After the Meeting
- Post meeting materials on your website (if not already there).
- Post the session recording on your website. Let people know it’s there.
- Post answers to all questions asked. Consider developing brief videos with your team answering questions received. Let people know they are there.
- Add participant email addresses (collected either before or during the meeting) to your database. Keep participants updated on your project’s progress.
- Secure your meeting against “Zoom-bombers” and hijackers by using platforms with proven security features. Yes, these disruptions can be avoided.
- Use a platform that shows – and captures – questions asked. Monitor questions before they are posted to block foul or derogatory language.
- Offer participants without Internet access a phone number they can use to call in and listen to the meeting. This same number could also be used to leave questions and comments, should participants not be able to submit them online.