- Preparations for the Meeting
If you are going to be the lead speaker on an article, be sure that the Moderator knows this well in advance.
In readying your presentation, remember the "three P's": Prepare... Prepare... and Prepare. You probably know your reasons for supporting the motion very well. Make sure you also know and understand the strongest arguments against what you are proposing so that you can address them, either directly or indirectly.
Rehearse your material until you are completely at ease with it. Present it to a group of friends or co-workers, and consider their suggestions. Ask your trial audience to think of tough questions. Try answering them on your feet.
If you wish to use visual aids such as a PowerPoint presentation, please contact the Moderator well in advance. You MUST submit a copy of the presentation to the Moderator not less than a week in advance. The purposes for the advance submission and review by the Moderator are to help ensure clarity of the presentation and to avoid logistical problems on the floor of Town Meeting.
If you need to put detailed language or numbers before people, have it prepared as a handout and place it on the tables in the lobby outside the auditorium 30-45 minutes before the session starts. Mark your material plainly with the article number. You should provide a minimum of 200 copies; 400 is safer if attendance is expected to be large.
- It’s Time for Your Article
When your article comes up, the Moderator will say, (continuing with the preceding example) "Article 18 relates to the acquisition of a new vehicle for the Fire Department. May I have a motion, please?" You rise and are recognized.
Please come to the front of the auditorium and use the microphone there. To save meeting time come to the front of the auditorium before your article is called, so that you can begin speaking as soon as your turn arrives. After giving your name and street, you state your motion.
In stating your motion, you have choices: If the motion is reasonable short, such as the preceding fire truck example, just go ahead and read it verbatim when called upon by the Moderator. If the motion is very long, such as a multipage zoning by-law, then it is sufficient to say, as your motion, "I move the article as printed in the motion handout.”
If your motion is in-between in length, you can choose either approach.
Pause at that point.
The Moderator will ask for a second, and the Moderator and Clerk will verify that all is in order. The Moderator will then offer you an opportunity to speak on behalf of your motion, before the floor is opened for general discussion. Note that a second is REQUIRED to continue with the article.
- Your Presentation
A brief, well-prepared presentation is much more effective than a rambling dissertation. Generally, presentations at Carver Town Meeting by proponents are limited to five minutes total. If you will have more than one person from your group speak, the total time should not exceed five minutes. (Speakers from the floor are given three minutes each.) If the topic is especially complex and you feel that you will be unable to do it justice in five minutes, you may contact the Moderator in advance and ask that he exercise his discretion to permit more time. Be forewarned that the Moderator expects to use this power sparingly.
Naturally, you know more about your subject than you can possibly cover in five minutes. But you are not there to tell people everything you know. The voters can and will make up their minds on the strength of far less than that, and it can actually be counterproductive to go on at length. Your original message gets lost, and in all the detail you are providing, voters will likely find one thing or another that they don’t understand or that troubles them. Don’t forget, you may speak a second time after you have heard some reaction to your proposal; this will give you a chance to focus your comments and address whatever may have emerged as troublesome issues.
Some people can memorize a speech. Others write their speech, and read it verbatim. Do this only if you must; it is very hard to read a speech and have it sound genuine, even though you mean every single word. For most of us, the following combination works best.
First, know exactly what you are going to say for your opening sentences, rehearse them until you can say them easily, and have them written out and handy. Begin your message positively, clearly, and emphatically. Next, work from an outline of key phrases. Speak conversationally and explain your ideas just as you would to a group of friends. (This, after all, is what you are doing.) Finally, know exactly the words with which you are going to wind up your speech; rehearse them, and have them available. Finish with a good summary and a friendly but clear request for support.
People remember most what you say first and what you say last, so be sure you get the heart of your message into your opening and your closing. Step back from the microphone when you are done and indicate to the Moderator that your presentation is complete.
- Discussion, Questions and Answers
At meetings in a business setting, presenters typically complete their remarks, then ask if there are any questions, and proceed to call on people who wish to raise issues, comment, or ask questions. This is not how it works at our Town Meeting. The Moderator recognizes all speakers, and after you speak, will ask appropriate town boards or officers to comment on your motion, before going to discussion from the floor.
Bear the following in mind when general discussion does begin. Any questions that citizens may have will be directed to the Moderator, not to you. The Moderator will exercise his discretion whether and when to ask you to respond to a question or questions from the floor. In general, the Moderator tries to see that factual questions that help voters understand the issue do get answered, but may not ask you to answer questions that are argumentative or irrelevant.
Town Meeting is not a court of law, and you are not under cross examination. If the Moderator believes the question should be answered, he will ask you to speak to it. If someone else on your team is better suited to answer the question, ask that your colleague respond. If you need more time to think, or need to consult a reference, or talk to a colleague, then do so. If you get called on anyway, simply say, "I need a moment to think about that" or words to that effect. If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply respond "I don't know," with or without a brief explanation of why you don't. While some may express disappointment, saying that you don't know is far preferable to guessing. In terms of responding to issues and arguments, the Moderator will generally only allow you to speak on your own initiative until others who have not spoken on the question have spoken if they desire. Therefore, after your initial presentation, you should not count on speaking more than once. Keep track of things that you want to rebut, and ask to speak again when you have a sense of how things are going and can speak to several issues at once.
Conclude with another brief summary statement and request for support. Don’t wait too long, though, because if a motion to close debate is made, accepted, and voted favorably, that will end all discussions even though you may not have had a chance to speak a second time.