Here are two dozen best practices for hosting a town hall teleconference. The Congressional Institute, which is dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve the nation and to helping the public better understand public policy debates and the operations of the national legislature, has conducted an extensive survey and has compiled several “best practices” for those hosting a town hall teleconference. Here is the list of their findings and suggestions to maximize the effectiveness of the call. For more information on our Town Hall Teleconference service, click here.
NOTE: THT = Town Hall Teleconference
Preparations for Hosting a Town Hall Teleconference
1) Limit the area that outbound calls are sent. Outbound calls should only be sent to communities that are within proximity to one another. When you include outbound calls that are spaced distantly apart geographically, you risk the interpretation that there are more constituents on the call then there actually are. This takes away from the intimacy, leaving people to feel less connected then they would be in a smaller THT. It is better to convey that you are only contacting people in their community and that you are focused on their local concerns and ideas.
2) Increase your parameters for the phone numbers you include. Based on our focus groups, people who were not asked to participate in a tele-town hall would have liked to have been included.
3) Make sure that your constituents know when a new THT is scheduled. You should give them approximately one weeks’ notice. A brief automated voice message can be left with the date and time of the upcoming call.
4) Stick to weekday evenings for your THTs. According to our research, sixty-four percent of respondents prefer weekday evenings when compared to weekends or daytime calls. Your times will vary with the general age of your constituents included on the call. To better reach the elderly your call should be earlier (around 7pm). For parents with children the start time should be a little later so that they have time to put their children to bed (Typically around 8:30pm). Calls should never be started later than 8:30pm.
5) Be sure to include all relevant constituents, even if they do not agree with your point of view. There is much to gain from simply having a THT. You can show you truly listen to the concerns of your constituents, even those that oppose your beliefs.
At the Beginning of Your Town Hall
6) As part of the automated message, specify the end time of the call. This information will help people determine if they have the time to commit to the entire call.
7) Explain that the first half hour will be limited to three or four pertinent issues and then specify the issues. This will give you control of the conversation and make sure that the most important issues get discussed thoroughly. This tactic also stops certain listeners from trying to take over the call with their own agenda. With that said, you also need to specify a certain time in the call in which the floor will be opened to all topics.
8) Before taking any questions, take some time to explain what you have been working on lately and what your upcoming plans are for the next month.
During Your Town Hall Teleconference
9) If you have callers that have specific personal concerns, get them off the call by referring them to your staff. Be compassionate with their concerns but explain that they should contact a specific person the following day. Make sure to give the caller the name and phone number of the staff member. This keeps the caller from getting impatient and having to listen to issues that do not pertain to them.
10) Make sure that the listeners understand that the call is live. An easy way to accomplish this is to announce the time or how much time is left in the call.
11) It is a good idea to use the instant survey feature of the THT to help keep the listeners engaged in the call. You can simply direct them to answer the survey questions by using the keypad on their phones. You can obtain feedback immediately and it shows that you truly want to understand how the listeners view a certain issue. This is a great feature of the THT platform.
12) Even if you know a caller personally, it is best not to act like you are close friends while on the call. This can make other listeners think that the call is not genuine or even staged. Most of the people on the call will probably not know you personally and it may seem strange to them that the person speaking happens to be your friend. If you do notice a familiar caller, it is best to be friendly but still impartial. You can say something like, “It is a pleasure to have you on this call tonight.”
13) The THT is a great opportunity to promote your website and once there you can encourage people to sign up for your e-newsletter. However, you shouldn’t send people to your website for the answers to their questions. You should answer all questions during the THT completely but also mention that if they would like more information on a topic they can visit your website. Always remember to give out the web address during the call.
14) Suggest to the listeners that they can put the THT call on speaker phone, so they don’t have to hold the phone to their ear. Holding the phone to their ear for the entire call can be annoying, so this reminder can help the call become more pleasant. Also, by putting the call on speaker phone this can allow others in the room to listen and give their input.
15) Indicate that this technology is relatively new, and you have decided, ahead of most, that it would be a great way to interact with your constituents. This will help show people that you are a leader, not a follower.
16) Explain that past THTs have helped to mold your opinions on certain issues. Even if they have not completely changed your stance on an issue, this can show that you are truly listening to your constituents and using this platform to better understand their beliefs. You do not want to give off the impression that you are only spreading information and not listening to what the people have to say.
At the End of Your Town Hall Teleconference
17) Reiterate that all callers can push a key on their phone to leave a message at the end of the THT. A staff member will then follow up to answer any questions the caller may have had. It is also helpful to have your THT provider set up an automated message to reply to the caller’s message. This automated message should thank them and explain that they will receive a call back from a live person in the next 48-72 hours. This helps to let callers know that their message was received and gives them a timetable that they can expect a response. Make sure that your staff does indeed call them back because if the caller does not receive a follow up call it can leave a very bad and lasting impression.
18) Say that you will be uploading a copy of the audio from the THT to your website. This allows anyone who was unable to attend to still download a copy and listen at their convenience. It is easy to convert to a podcast that can be downloadable for all.
Other Recommendations to Improve Your Results
19) Attempt to connect with every household once per quarter, as studies have shown this to be the perfect amount. At the calls completion you should also announce what month you will be calling again.
20) Each THT should only last one hour, at the most.
21) If you dial someone that is not home, a message can be left that states you were inviting them to a THT. You can then direct them to your website to download the audio transcript. This gives value to constituents, even though they were not available for the live version of the THT.
22) Constituents want to hear your views and opinions. It is best not to invite special guests or experts to weigh in on issues.
23) Never specify the number of people that are attending the THT. Most people assume the number is far less than it is and thus feel the setting is more intimate.
24) Make sure you take these calls seriously and do your homework beforehand. Half of people that were polled said that the THT is the primary method they use to evaluate your job performance.