What is a townhall debate?

If it is an online event, speakers will be shown in a controlled screen. Audience members can answer questions through polls that guide the discussion or send in hidden questions to the moderator. Audience members cannot be seen or heard, but may have an opportunity to send in written questions. This can be a physical event that is also streamed. Townhall debates are best suited for bringing a discussion between experts, politicians, interest organisations etc. to a broader public.

Seven steps to organise a successful townhall debate

Step 1: Remember that any event is not a stand-alone work or a goal in itself. You need to understand and define the scope of the event and how it plays into both internal goals and external trends. Consider why you are holding the event, and what the next steps could be. How does it correspond to your internal timelines and goals?

Based on this, set up an indicative timeline as well as a clear theme for the event. Timing, how long the event should be, number of speakers and how much time they will each get, are all important questions.


Step 2: After you have set the theme and the overall scope of the event, you need to identify and invite speakers. It is a good idea to have a moderator in mind at this stage already, as it may be of interest for the people receiving the invitation to speak to or evaluate the chosen moderator.

Give your speakers information on the set up. Will it be livestreamed? Is it online only or are some participants meeting in a conference room and the audience is online? Will it require any technology or travel arrangements from the speakers? If it is a seminar that takes place physically with an audience present, while also being livestreamed, how are people invited?


Step 3: Prepare the speakers and the moderator properly. This means sharing information on the other participants so they know who they will be communicating with. Share information on the expected number of participants. Inform them whether it be recorded for posterity or later viewing.


Step 4: Market and advocate the event to the right stakeholders and potential participants.

This can be done through your own social media channels, newsletters, etc. Participants can also be asked to indicate on their own channels that they will participate. Depending on your timeframe and budget, you should consider paid advertisements for the event in different relevant fora and building online ad campaigns on social media.


Step 5: When you carry out your event, ensure that the audience, whether participating in person or online, has the opportunity to ask questions. Different platforms offer different options for this. A dedicated person should be given the responsibility of looking through the incoming questions and handing them to the moderator. This is especially important for events with a large audience, since the discussion moderator may need to focus on the speakers. Some platforms also allow you to hold live opinion polls with audience input during the debate.


Step 6: After the event, it is important to follow-up with relevant stakeholders and audience members. For example, you should consider having a final report to share, a summary with key takeaways to post on social media and/or a recording of the live stream available for viewing.


Step 7: How should you move forward with your overall strategy? Talk to us about organising your event by contacting [email protected]