With the federal election now locked in for September 7 many groups will be arranging forums to put the candidates through their paces. However, politics can get messy and it pays to make sure such events are well organised and run affairs.
During the 2012 Queensland state and local government elections I ran a total of seven forums for various groups. Based on the lessons I learnt from that experience plus feedback from candidates and observers, here are my top five tips for running a successful forum:
Decide on a format that gives everybody the opportunity to be heard.
Much of the discussion will naturally gravitate towards certain candidates but it is important not to exclude others. Give everyone the chance to make opening and closing statements. If questions from the floor are being directed primarily at one or two candidates ask others for their input.
Have some basic rules and enforce them.
If the candidates are successful they will have to abide by certain directions in parliament so don’t be afraid to ask them to show the same respect at your forum by enforcing time limits and standards of conduct.
Don’t allow rants.
When the floor is open to questions some people will take the opportunity to vent at certain candidates. Insist that they actually ask a question or move on to someone who does have a genuine question.
Make sure questions are concise.
Many audience members feel it is necessary to provide substantial background information in which to frame their question. Two or three minutes later “What is your plan for ‘x’?” is still the same question with or without the background information. This is a tough one to manage but the fact is, if you allow several people do it, by the end of the forum a lot of time has been wasted and others have been robbed of the opportunity to have their questions answered.
Choose a competent moderator.
Having a set format, rules and guidelines is pointless if the person running the forum is incapable of making sure they are adhered to. Here’s the catch – at the same time the moderator also needs sound enough judgement to know when a point is important enough to allow some flexibility.
Running a candidate forum can be a challenge but done well it is a great opportunity to hear from all of the candidates in your electorate on a range of issues. If you would like to run something but all this sounds a bit hard, by all means get in touch.