Attending Town Hall and Candidate Forums

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Town hall meetings and candidate forums are settings where the member of Congress and candidates want to connect with people in the district.

When these events are large and structured, the opportunity is different than when they are small. Through good planning and by being quick to adapt to the situation, you can take advantage of these opportunities. They are worth planning for with the same care that you plan for a lobby meeting.

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Related Trainings
Attending Town Hall and Candidate Forums is part of the Congressional In-District series.
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Finding town halls

You can connect directly with your member of Congress or candidates at town hall meetings and candidate forums.

How you connect differs  depending on the size of the event. Through good planning and by being ready to adapt to the situation, you can make the most of these opportunities.

Check the website and Facebook pages of your  member of Congress or candidate to find out when a public event is happening.

The best information comes from the your district  office, so build a relationship with the scheduler. Check in with them by phone two weeks before recess to see what’s on the schedule for your member of Congress. Sometimes there isn’t much advance notice, so check in frequently during Congressional recesses and the campaign season.

Setting your objectives

Before the event, you and your team should  work together to figure out your objectives. Here are some examples:

  • Encourage the member of Congress to take the best possible position on climate change by asking a question that links their strengths and concerns to our issue.
  • Find out more about the member of Congress or candidate and their priorities by asking a general question on climate change or related issues, like energy and national security.
  • Educate the member of Congress or candidate and others present by asking a question that contains a key fact about the Energy Innovation Act embedded within it.
  • Create the impression that the public cares about climate change by not identifying as CCL.
  • Create a positive impression of CCL’s organizing ability by identifying as CCL.
  • Establish rapport a with the member of Congress, candidate or staff by mingling informally during transition times before and after the event. Come early, stay late, and see if you can position yourself near the member of Congress.
Tips and tricks

Here are ideas of what to do at a town hall:

  • Dress nicely, sit up front, smile, and look pleasant to increase your chances of getting called on.
  • Sit near the microphone If there is one in the aisle for participants.
  • Keep it brief and personal.
  • Sometimes these meetings bring out members of the community who are strident or difficult, and you can be a breath of fresh air simply by being pleasant and engaging.
  • Approach these events with the same diligence you would apply to a private meeting with a member of Congress. What are the concerns of the member of Congress and their constituents? What kind of language and messaging will resonate with the audience in your district?
  • A good question includes an appreciation at the beginning and the end, and offers some useful talking points for the speaker to pick up on. It may be tempting to try to embarrass some candidates, but this will be less productive than helping them find talking points that lead to solutions.
  • Link your question to something that resonates with the member of Congress. For example, if your research shows that employment is a key issue, frame your question around jobs. If your research shows that national security is a priority, then reference a military official in your question. If air quality is bad and asthma is a problem, reference the health benefits of clean energy.
  • When turnout is low, sometimes a discussion can take place. If you can get a productive conversation started, you’ve turned this event into a mini-lobby meeting. If things are going very well, consider asking if you can meet again to continue the discussion.
Here are some things to avoid at town hall meetings:
  • Avoid speeches disguised as questions—keep it brief and focused on one aspect.
  • Avoid questions that make them say no.
  • Avoid accusatory questions, anything that starts with “Why didn’t you…” or “I was disappointed that…” We want to lead them to a better position, and we are unlikely to reach their hearts with negative questions.
  • Avoid prefacing questions with long statements the desperate situation with climate. When including information on climate change, reference local experts and specific local climate impacts.
  • Although these meetings can offer opportunities to move things forward, sometimes meetings are counterproductive. Avoid saying something that provokes a negative response from the crowd because that could discourage a congressman from taking leadership on climate change. Avoid backing the member of Congress into a corner and creating a defensive reaction. Our goal is engagement, not confrontation. If that’s not possible, then attending and speaking at these events may not be a useful strategy.
Sample questions

The ideal question encourages the member of Congress or candidate to respond positively and plays well with the audience. In general, we want to ask questions that encourage them to speak about solutions and/or the need for bipartisanship. Click here for the Resource hand-out for sample Town Hall Questions or visit the sitewide forums to discuss and see what others have shared.

Length
Press play to start the video (14m 43s)
https://vimeo.com/album/5436395
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro & Definitions
(From beginning)

Finding Out About Events & Determining Objectives
(1:10)

Things To Consider & Avoid
(4:00)

Example Questions
(6:47)

Final Considerations
(11:52)

Instructor(s)
d0b2e51b14039af34fb1b549f25234a0-huge-sn

Brett Cease

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Audio length
Press play to start the audio (14m 43s)
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Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro & Definitions
(From beginning)

Finding Out About Events & Determining Objectives
(1:10)

Things To Consider & Avoid
(4:00)

Example Questions
(6:47)

Final Considerations
(11:52)

Instructor(s)

Brett Cease

Discussion Topic
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Category
Training
Topics
Lobbying Congress
Format
Audio / Video, Presentation
File Type
Google Slides, PowerPoint (.pptx)
Training Resources

Sample Town Hall Questions 

The resources above are specific to this training, see all resources associated with Lobbying Congress.