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Organizing a community meeting!

Community meetings are a great way to bring people together to discuss a particular issue and brainstorm for solutions.

Preparation

Try to reserve a rent-free hall for your meeting. Make sure it’s large enough for your meeting – but be careful it isn’t too large. A large, but sparsely populated room doesn’t look good – especially if the media attend. It is much better to have a smaller room that is full. Not only does it make for a better photo-op, it brings more energy to the meeting. When choosing a place to hold the meeting, remember the location will determine the type of audience you will attract.

Select two dedicated people to set up a planning committee. It is important to limit the planning committee to 5-7 people for efficiency. This core group should be able to attend all planning meetings. If possible, try to include at least one cancer expert/scientist, one community activist, one educator, and most importantly, an experienced organizer. Designate a person in this core group to be the liaison who works with the chosen speakers to develop the agenda and topics for discussion. Find an office location to do mailings, make phone calls and hold meetings. Hold a working meeting every week to plan, coordinate, and delegate responsibilities. Don’t discuss strategy or policy at these meetings.

Planning

Allocate approximately $500-$1500 for flyers, mailings and audio/video equipment rental. It is smart to hold a post-event reception so be sure to budget for some beverages & snacks.

At Eight Weeks

Depending on the size of the community, you will need to print at 500-1000 flyers. These should have the title, location, purpose of the event, and a contact person’s phone number. The flyers not only serve to advertise the event, but are great for local organizations to distribute to their members. Send out invitations to elected officials, policy makers, civil society organizations, and, of course, the media! Note the focus or topic for discussion. Make a follow-up call to each elected official to confirm they received the invitations. If possible, get a local computer wizard to volunteer to set up an event website. The simple website would contain a nice visual and the same information as the flyer (where, when, speakers, etc.). There should also be an e-mail link to a designated event organizer, and a “what’s new” area where updates and emerging information can be posted. Depending on the volunteer’s skill level, the sky is the limit.

At Six Weeks

Distribute flyers in places where people will see them! Brainstorm with the organizers to develop a list of strategic places and engage volunteers to oversee distribution. Be sure to deliver flyers to schools and universities.

At Five Weeks

It is now time to select someone to be the master of ceremonies. This person will introduce the speakers and moderate discussion.

At Four Weeks

It is time to send a media advisory to the local television and radio stations, newspapers and freelance journalists.

Make sure the media advisory includes the following information:

  • the time, date and location
  • the topic and who is speaking
  • why you are organizing the event
  • contact information for a designated media liaison

At Three Weeks

Arrange for sound equipment. Reserve at least one microphone for the speakers, one for the master of ceremonies, and one for audience participation. You should also try to get someone to videotape the event so it can later be reproduced and/or broadcast on the internet (e.g. YouTube.com).

At Two Weeks

Send another media advisory or embargoed press release to newsrooms, journalists, editors and freelancers. If possible follow up your advisory/release with a phone call. Now is the time to invite local politicians and policy makers. Try to secure a commitment of their participation, or at least the participation of one of their staff members.

At One Week

Call those who have agreed to speak to remind them of the time, place, date, etc. Remind them of their pre-agreed time limit. If they haven’t already done so, ask them to submit their speaking notes in writing.

Three Days Before

Re-issue media advisory. Call the media to remind them of the event and encourage their participation. If they are planning to attend, ask who they will be sending. If any of the meeting organizers or volunteers has any friends, family or other contacts in the media – now is the time to utilize them.

One Day Before

Issue a press release and be sure to insert some quotes. The quotes should be from a cancer expert/scientist or community leader, and should clearly portray an idea of what will be discussed at the event. Don’t forget to include contact information for the designated media liaison.

Night of the Event

Arrive three hours ahead of time to prepare the room and put up signs and banners. Make sure directions to the meeting location are clearly visible. Check sound and video equipment. Set-up a table with educational literature. Enlist five volunteers to sign-in attendees (try to get everyone’s name, mail address, telephone number and email address). Enlist an organizer to greet media and welcome speakers and VIPs. Start the event on time! Reserve 30 minutes at the end of meeting for discussion and questions from the audience. Immediately after the meeting, host a small reception (provide some snacks and beverages) to encourage continued informal discussion.