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How to Prepare for a Public Meeting: A Guide for Engaged Citizens

April 25, 2014
by Jacque Porte

How does one become a civically engaged citizen? Your local school or municipality may have entered into the twenty-first century with the introduction of digital agendas and live-streaming media, but you may be wondering how you can participate in these meetings to voice your opinion. After all, you’ve already tracked a topic of interest through the web, searched for and downloaded associated documents, and even participated in virtual discussion via the internet, but a really important issue drives you to attend a public meeting and participate in person. We’re here to provide a quick guide to preparing for a public meeting.

Contact your chairman or representative to discuss how the decision will be made and what factors will be taken into account. You can also learn more about the timeline for the issue and identify which meetings accommodate public comment.

Identify board member positions by contacting each individual to ask how they feel and how they intend to vote.

Review previous meetings to collect information about procedure and past decisions.

Contact the board’s clerk and others who work closely with the board. These individuals will be able to give you valuable information on how the board tends to vote on similar topics.

Identify the opposition and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their position. Contact representatives to discuss possible solutions or learn what talking points you will be facing at the meeting.

Assess community support by speaking with other individuals and groups. You may find yourself united with another group towards the same cause, or you may find others who are willing to voice their support for your position at the meeting.

Collect information about the issue being discussed. Your position is stronger and your point more clearly heard if you are knowledgeable and thorough.

Draft your points of discussion and support with references to help guide you when speaking. Practice in front of family and friends to ensure you make a convincing argument.

Strive for brevity while drafting your comments. Public comments are often limited to three or five minutes (this information is usually available on the website or meeting agenda). A concise, well-crafted argument will ensure you have enough time to address all of your discussion points while avoiding a long-winded or repetitive speech.

Arrive early and follow the rules for public speakers. You can likely sign up with the clerk or other staff member at the beginning of the meeting, but some organizations allow internet signup for public speakers.

Tune in for our next article where we’ll be providing tips for public speakers during the meeting and advice for following up and public discussion.

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