Successful Public Meetings

A Practical Guide

By Elaine Cogan

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Love 'em or hate 'em, public meetings are an essential part of most planners' jobs. How can you get them right from the start? The first step is to accept the maxim of well-known meeting planner Elaine Cogan: "A successful public meeting is the reward for studious attention to many factors; it is not the result of luck or happenstance." The second step is to follow the excellent advice she offers in Successful Public Meetings.

Cogan identifies the three essential components of any successful meeting: effective leadership, advance planning, and good organization. She explains why it's essential to begin the preparations by deciding what the meeting is intended to accomplish. That, in turn, determines what kind of meeting you should conduct: informational, advisory, or problem-solving.

Cogan breaks down the essential tasks involved and even suggests the right type of person to handle each one. She describes various types of troublesome meeting attendees-from accusers and apathetics to fence-sitters and know-it-alls-and offers advice on how to deal tactfully but firmly with them all. She also tackles working effectively with the media, a subject that terrifies most planners.

True stories of public meetings, both good and bad, add humor to her no-nonsense narrative. Follow her step-by-step checklist and leave nothing to chance.

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Date Published
April 10, 2000
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents


About the author


1. Leadership: The key to successful public meetings
Attributes of leadership • The chairperson • Facilitator and discussion leader • The recorder

2. Different types of public meetings
Informational meetings • Advisory meetings • Problem-solving meetings

3. Getting the word out

4. Creating the right environment for each meeting
Satisfactory site • Visible signs • Convenient timing • Welcome refreshments • Room with no views • Necessary name tags • Fail-safe equipment

5. Making effective presentations
Individual presentations • Panel presentations • Question period

6. Graphics and audiovisuals
Menu of audiovisual techniques • Principles of graphics and audiovisual use

7. Dealing with attendees at meetings

8. Positive media relations
Print, radio, and television • Reaching out • Getting the media to announce your meeting • Control the interview • When the media come to your meeting • When the media err • Principles of successful media relations

9. Step-by-step checklist for meeting planners
Pre-meeting • During the meeting • Post-meeting

10. Final thoughts


Reviewed by Hubert Morgan in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter 2004, Vol. 70, No. 1

"Enter Elaine Cogan. Her entire book is devoted to the details — one might even say minutiae — of planning and running public meetings. She mines more than 25 years other own experience running hundreds of public meetings in innumerable settings. Throughout the book, she sprinkles vignettes that illustrate the problems and pitfalls of public participation, along with seating diagrams, checklists, and charts comparing presentation methods. She is blunt in her assessment: Public meetings are unpredictable. They are messy. They often become arenas where people confront each other passionately on issues. They can be time consuming to organize and tedious to attend, taking precious time away from getting on with the matter at hand and reaching a solution, (p. xi) Heeding her counsel presumably minimizes the mess. Cogan writes in an omniscient tone, with no need of appendices, bibliographies, or empirical proofs. No detail is too minor to escape her judgment ("Spoken words can be abbreviated [in graphics] if they are simple and clear"; p. 71). This is not a book for reflection or general edification. It is a how-to book. If you have a meeting to run and are in any way uncertain about how to do it, this book will eradicate your uncertainty. Chapter 9 alone, with its list of 35 things to do before, during, and after the meeting, will see you through.