As social distancing and self-quarantining become the new normal, Americans want to hear from elected leaders and candidates more than ever.
Battling the COVID-19 virus has ground community events, campaign rallies, small meetings, and door-to-door canvassing to a halt.
But that doesn’t mean you should halt your communications with constituents, voters or members of your advocacy group. You can still safely communicate with a large audience using a telephone town hall.
With sports, school, and church events canceled, people are at home, available, and ready to take your call.
A telephone town hall allows you to communicate and be interactive with an audience of hundreds, or even thousands all at once. But just like an in-person event, you’ll only get out as much as you put in.
To make the most of your telephone town hall, follow these three steps:
Spread the word far and wide — and enough in advance.
Lawmakers using a telephone town hall for official business may dial out to a large audience of both landlines and cell phones. Campaigns and issues organizations may only dial out to landline phones or those with cellphones who have opt-ed in.
But the most active and involved participants in any telephone town hall are those who proactively dial in to your event so focus on getting the word to people who will be interested.
To do that, start by sending peer-to-peer (P2P) text messages including your toll-free phone number that participants can click to join. Consider an MMS, using an image or GIF to draw focus and attention. Email your list 48 hours in advance, and again the morning of your event. Post on social media several times in advance, and 10 minutes before the event begins. Ask your followers to post and share — especially in like-minded groups.
Send an automated call to the people who will be receiving your outbound dial to join your event. Let them know all they need to do is simply wait by the phone, and answer when you call.
Make sure to have a worthwhile, interesting conversation.
Successful candidates and elected leaders approach their telephone town hall with the same level of preparation as they would any in-person event. In many cases, your telephone audience is the largest group to which you’ll ever speak.
Yet, it’s surprising to see how often a candidate will get on the phone unprepared, simply because they cannot see their audience. Here are a few simple tips to ensure you hold your audience with a conversation worth having:
1. Prepare a line-by-line in advance, including notes for your opening remarks. It helps to have a moderator open the call, tell people how to participate, and call on members of the audience for you.
2. Keep the conversation fast and lively. Have responses ready for questions you think are likely to come up. Your responses to each question or comment should be no longer than 2-3 minutes.
3. Give your audience several ways to participate. You can ask your audience their opinion with a poll question, ask them to commit their vote or to volunteer, and gather email addresses.
Keep the conversation going after the call.
You’ve just had a successful event where you spoke with thousands of voters or constituents, shared valuable information, and answered questions. Now what?
Remember for every person who was on the line with you, there are many more who would appreciate and benefit from the information.
Now is the time to take the most valuable segments of your interactive conversation and share them with an even larger audience.
- Use the recording of your event and a static image to create 60-second MP4 videos that you can post to your YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Encourage your followers to post, share, and re-Tweet.
- Send P2P text messages of your video, along with a link to listen to the entire event. Ask people to reply to your text to let you know what they think.
- Email your supporters a synopsis along with a link to listen to the entire event or pertinent clips.
Remember, this is a unique moment in history. You’re speaking to folks who aren’t used to being sequestered at home, who may be irritated, bored, confused or scared.
This is your chance to build a meaningful connection that will last much, much longer than any virus.
Nicole Schlinger is the president and founder of CampaignHQ. CampaignHQ was the 2020 Reed Award winner for “Innovation in Phone Technology” for their modern, mobile-first approach to telephone town halls.