This tool was developed by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy to help organize productive and enjoyable meetings when trying to gain public support for your project.
Reserve a space that is in a neutral, easily accessible location and large enough to accommodate your expected audience (library, community center, etc.)
Invite a wide variety of partners and stakeholders. Send an invitation with contact information for the meeting organizer.
Plan an agenda and have copies for attendees. Clearly identify the desired outcome from the meeting. Allow time during your meeting for people to introduce themselves and explain their interest in the project.
Do your homework. Know as much as you can about the project and community.
Time is very important. Respect people’s busy schedules by starting and ending on time. Estimate and include in your agenda the amount of time to be spent on each item and stick to it. If people want to discuss more, suggest another meeting to be scheduled to cover a particular topic or offer to stay afterwards to talk.
Be open to questions and discussion. This will help you gauge the level of enthusiasm or opposition.
Achieve the goal you identified when you created the agenda. If you want to elect a chair and establish committees, be prepared to recommend what committees will be needed (others may be added by the group), and have a candidate in mind.
Get the names and contact information for everyone who attends. This is the core of your coalition.
Successful meetings are thoughtfully planned. This checklist is meant to be a worksheet for you. Check off the answers, add notes in the margins, and fill in the blanks. After the meeting, take notes on how you think it went, things to do differently next time, and follow-up items.
Why are you at this meeting? To:
- Introduce the concept of a blue trail
- Be part of a larger agenda
- Build support for a blue trail
- Respond to issues and concerns expressed about the blue trail
Who will be there? Knowing who will attend the meeting will help you prepare your remarks. Get a sense of their attitudes before you prepare.
- Friends and supporters
- Public officials and decision-makers
- Community leaders
- Business owners
- Private landowners
- People without a firm opinion
- Local media
What is the time and location?
Address of meeting:
Directions to location:
Are there special equipment or room set-up needs?
- Microphones (for speaker and audience during Q&A)
- VCR/DVD and monitor
- Extension cord
- Table for handouts
- Tables and chairs
- Electrical outlet
Will materials be handed out? If so, prepare a sufficient number before the meeting. Decide when to distribute them:
- At the door when people arrive: They will have an opportunity to look through them before your presentation. But, if the information needs explanation, unnecessary questions may arise before you have presented the material in a larger context. If the information is controversial, the audience has time to plan their argument. If you reference the material in your presentation, then early distribution has benefits.
- At the time of your presentation: People shuffle through papers when they receive them, so plan accordingly. Give them time to shuffle and then keep them focused by identify the page you are referencing.
- At the conclusion of the meeting: If materials replicate any visuals you use and repeat the information you give, then a take-home may be your best approach.
Model speech outline
Introduction: Introduce yourself and explain your interest in the project.
- It’s good to see each of you here tonight, but I’d especially like to acknowledge our Mayor Jane Smith. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this important discussion.
- I’m here tonight to introduce you to an exciting opportunity right here in our community. This is…
- The opportunity to capture history and at the same time preserve a wonderful resource for the future…
- The opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life here in [community name]…
- The opportunity to join with other communities across the country…
- This opportunity is known as the [blue trail name]…
- Today it’s an eyesore with trash and fallen trees. For some it’s a place to dump their trash. But the river corridor can become a point of community pride. It can become a community resource where you can paddle, hike, picnic, where our children can enjoy the outdoors – all without worrying about…
- A blue trail here in [community name] can make a difference to all of us, and tonight I am here to challenge us to meet this opportunity.
Outline your speech:
I’d like to do two things:
- First, I would like to share some more detailed information about our blue trail opportunity
- Second, I would like to answer your questions
Describe the project: Where is it located? Give end-points, but also include landmarks and community resources that are along the trail. Use large maps if possible. What community activities will be tied together with the trail? Will residents be able to access businesses or parks from the blue trail? How long could the trail be? If this is a phased project, give the biggest picture. Be sure to explore how your trail might fit into a state-wide and nation-wide trail network.
Next steps: Identify the next steps what must occur for your trail to succeed. For each step add clarity, facts and figures, examples, timelines, and resource requirements:
- What must be done? Describe the action in broad terms and more specific terms.
- What will this action add to the trail project?
- Who has responsibility for this action?
- What resources will be required?
- What is the timeline? How long will it take? Is there a deadline date that must be met?
- I would like to hear your questions and comments.
- We have talked about an exciting possibility for our community, a possibility that I believe will truly enhance… For this to become a reality we must act now and work together. Thank you for your interest. I will remain after the meeting to answer further questions.
Managing Q&A: A question and answer period is extremely valuable and informative for you and the audience. It will help define any concerns people may have and provide an opportunity to expand on some of the points in your presentation. Here are pointers for getting the most out of Q&A.
- Know more about your topic than time allows you to include in your presentation.
- Anticipate questions that might be asked, both hostile and friendly. Prior to the meeting, create a list of likely questions and practice your answers.
- Listen carefully to each person with a question. Look directly at them while they are speaking. They deserve your full attention, regardless of the quality of the question.
- Understand the question. If the question is not clear, ask for clarification. In large rooms, people may have difficulty hearing the question so be sure to repeat it. For example, if someone asks, “Isn’t crime going to be a big problem?” Your answer might begin, “The problem of crime along trails has been researched and…”
- Stay calm. No matter how silly a question may seem or confrontational a person may be it is important that you maintain a level head. If a person raises their voice, respond quietly and slowly. Change the tone from negative to positive.
- Never argue with the person asking the question. Give your answer and, if the individual insists on challenging you, suggest that the two of you continue the discussion after the meeting and move on to the next question.
- Correct inaccuracies immediately and in a positive manner. It is better to say, “Let me correct something you just said…” than to confront the person with, “What you just said is wrong.”
- Be positive in your answers. There are positive connector phrases that you can use to answer a question:
- We might be overlooking…
- It’s equally important to know…
- Let me give you some facts
- You should also know…
- Be honest. If you do not know an answer, say so, but commit to finding the answer. Be sure you get the questioner’s contact information so you can follow-up.
- Check your answer to be sure it is understood. If the person asking the question has a puzzled look on their face, use that as a clue that they may not quite understand what you are saying.
- Be sincere, non-defensive, and proud of your project. You want to these people to share your position and vision for the blue trail. If you can win them over from their skepticism, you will have that many more hands to work and voices to encourage other such projects.
- Be available after the meeting to answer further questions and invite people to stop and discuss the project with you.