Why do so many public meetings turn Into shouting matches?

Having organised many hundreds of public meeting its useful to pass on some thoughts as to how to structure a meeting that won’t spiral into chaos.

Many people would prefer to avoid public meetings at all costs, for obvious reasons. However they can, if organised properly produce a dynamic debate that will shine a very powerful spotlight on the developer, and will reflect well with politicians and stakeholders.

The key to any public meeting is to prepare properly and ensure there is a structure agreed, that all formal parties would adhere to. This is where the role of a chair is crucial who will stop a grandstanding local politician and will keep in check a group who shout across the audience.

Too many times public meetings are badly managed, and are simply hijacked by a small number of outspoken voices that completely overwhelm the meeting.

It is therefore the responsibility of the applicant and the host to agree a full structured agenda, before embarking on a public meeting.

Many times it is left to the Mayor of the local town Council to chair the meeting, which immediately puts them in a difficult position.

An independent chair is always the ideal situation, but he or she needs to be fully briefed and aware of local interests. It is also better to hold more than one public meeting if possible. As the pressure of attending and having one’s say can create a charged atmosphere.

The chair of the meeting needs to be very careful in preparing the agenda and releasing the agenda that he does not misrepresent views or allow any form of predetermination to take place. Councillors need to be reminded of this fact.

In days gone by small groups of protesters would bully residents into calling for a vote, and pressurising them into an open display of hostility. Nowadays such hostility is recognized as being counter-productive and suppressing full and effective debate. However it does require a clearly defined agenda and a strong chair at the helm to ensure the meeting does not end up being used by one particular group to suit their goals.

There are many other factors that will determine the outcome of a public meeting. There’s a great deal of difference between having experience in speaking at a public meeting and having the ability to organize an effective strategy to deliver a fair and balanced meeting, with a meaningful output. One should always take control of the organisation of meetings, and never rely on third parties to organise as they see fit.

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