Step 2. Identify/engage local champions to serve on the “Planning Committee” for the Town Hall

A high-impact Town Hall isn’t something you are going to be able to pull off by yourself; you need to get local stakeholders and constituents involved and engaged in the planning of the event itself.

About 6-8-12 weeks before the Town Hall, invite people to join you in 1-3 meetings where you will plan out what you want to happen at the Town Hall. Bringing together an ad-hoc team like this can be daunting, especially if you don’t know many of the players. One good way to think about the team dynamics is that high performing teams go through 5 distinct phases:To learn more about each phase, see this presentation available on Slideshare. It does a good job of describing what happens at each stage and your role as a facilitator in pulling together a true team.

Desired Format

One of the most consequential decisions you and the Planning Committee are going to want to discuss is the desired format for your Town Hall. The word “Town Hall” conjures up a highly-participatory format, so you are going to want to avoid extensive Powerpoint and perhaps even panel discussions in favor of something far more participatory.

One format for a Town Hall we think worth considering is an Unconference, because this allows the attendees to define the agenda and encourages them to participate in conversations. People who attend participate; they are not members of an audience.

The Unconference methodology has been around for about 10 years and is well documented in the open-source community. Here are a set of resources you can use to better understand the Unconference format and how to set up your Town Hall for success.

One important thing to discuss with the Planning Committee members: who wants to give a talk about their work at the Town Hall. While participants of the Town Hall suggest topics and vote them up and down, you want to have a “starter set” of talks ready to suggest, to kickstart the discussion. The vast majority of these talks should be lightning talks.

Lightning Talks Defined

A lightning talk is a very short presentation lasting only a few minute. Several lightning talks will usually be delivered by different speakers in a single session.

Here are some guidelines for creating a great lightning talk to share with your Planning Committee and anyone else you want to see speak at the Town Hall:

The need to prepare lightning talks in advance is particular critical if the ecosystem around Making in your city or town is under development versus more mature.

Keynote Speakers

Asking an outside speaker to come in and keynote your Town Hall by giving a slightly longer talk – say 10-15 minutes max – is one way to open your Town Hall. The best keynote speakers are great storytellers, with relevant experience and practical results they can point to. Look to the acknowledgments of the Maker City book for a list of potential keynote speakers for your Town Hall. (Be sure to look at their clips on Youtube first; not everyone who is an expert excels at public speaking!)

Is an out-of-town keynote speaker necessary to make your Town Hall successful? Not at all! Your Town Hall will rock to the extent you leverage expertise and experience of people who live and work in your city or town.

Be aware that outside speakers who work for city government (but not in your particular home town) and those who work for a non-profit or startup organization may ask that you cover their travel costs.

City leaders, local conferences, TEDx events, organizers of other events, and members of the community that inspire you are can be great sources when looking for keynote speakers for your Town Hall.