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How to Plan a Town Hall Meeting on a Health Issue

Town hall meeting

A town hall meeting is a community event in which a panel of people, including experts, community resource people, and/or public officials, present information on a particular issue. Community members usually have the opportunity to discuss issues with panel members during a question-and-answer session or roundtable discussion. This document will give you planning tips on how to hold a town hall meeting on a health issue in your community.

Ten Planning Steps

  1. Make a list of contacts, including those local organizations; local, state, and federal government agencies; businesses; faith-based organizations; and the media.
  2. Select a chairperson, and form a planning committee that meets regularly. Divide responsibilities for materials distribution, media support, and event planning. Develop a timeline.
  3. Secure a meeting location. Anticipate the number of participants, and consider parking requirements. Choose a location that is easily accessible, politically neutral, and comfortable.
  4. Develop a meeting strategy by looking for opportunities to build on existing effective programs. Invite speakers to be a part of the panels.
  5. Hold planning meetings with key representatives in the community. Connect with academia, local health departments, and women's health networks. Present the program, and look for joint activities that could be incorporated into the meeting. Set up face-to-face meetings with selected groups. Make an appointment, take a marketing kit, and have ideas ready about what partners can do. 
  6. Write a letter of invitation to community members and public officials describing what the meeting is about. Ask invitees to bring their calendars.
  7. Coordinate key program participants, and obtain buy-in from stakeholders.
  8. Develop an agenda and materials. Send out press releases. Include information on how to register for the event.
  9. At the meeting, be sure to have a moderator to give everyone a chance to speak and keep the pace. Have someone take notes and transcribe the discussion. Be sure that microphones are set up for speakers and audience members. Develop a system for addressing attendees who ask questions.
  10. After the meeting, follow up with contacts gained at the meeting, and prepare an ad-hoc committee to continue sustaining efforts.
  11. Send out thank you letters to sponsors and speakers.

Helpful Hints

  • Know your audience. Promote the meeting using traditional and non-traditional media channels to make contact with diverse groups of community members.
  • Keep the panels of presenters small to ensure plenty of interaction with participants.
  • Give speakers a time limit for their presentations ahead of time. The moderator should everyone adheres to their allotted time.
  • Provide handouts or summaries of all speakers' presentations where appropriate.
  • Ask participants to fill out an evaluation form at the end of the event.

Case Example

Below is an example of a town hall meeting to give you an idea of how you might want to organize one in your community.

Name of event: Reaching and Serving Communities through Public Health Integration
Target audience: Community members, including those involved in health care, academia, corporate and community-based organizations, media, industry, state and local governments, and faith-based organizations
Purpose: Various national and regional government health offices and a university regional training center planned this event together to promote health and disease prevention and provide health information and networking opportunities for involvement in improving health outcomes in the region.
Outcome: This one-day town hall meeting provided an opportunity for public officials and community members to exchange information to help facilitate improvement of health status in the region. The panel speakers represented legislation and policy at the federal and state levels and the link to improve health outcomes at the community level. Break-out sessions included information on various health issues that affected the community. A luncheon speaker spoke about closing the health disparities gap. Participants learned about new local and national programs and initiatives in the region. Forty-three public and private partners presented and exhibited health information.
Description: During their one-hour lunch break, employees came with their lunches to participate in a seminar featuring two speakers, who presented for 20 minutes each. The first speaker discussed obesity in the United States, and the second speaker discussed specific ways participants could improve their eating and exercise habits. A 20-minute question-and-answer session followed. There was a surprise give-away at the end to two members of the audience who had a "lucky winner" tag under their chairs. They won a tasty box of whole grain cereal rich in fiber and folic acid.
Publicity:
  • Issued press releases via broadcast media.
  • Posted announcements on government and academic websites.
  • Mailed "Save the Date" announcements and a personal letter of invitation to those in the community, health professions, government, industry, media, academia, faith-based organizations, and business organizations.
  • Followed up announcements with personal telephone calls and visits.
Planning Time: Four months, though you may need more or less time depending on your setting.

This tip sheet is provided as a service only. Some details may vary, depending on your organization's resources and needs.

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