Organizing Your Public Program

6 Months - Determine Your Program Theme and Format

Select a planning committee.
A planning committee should include five or six interested groups and individuals in your community. Work with your planning committee to decide what type of program will engage your public audience.

Identify program objectives.
Public programs can serve many purposes. Decide if your goals are to educate, build public awareness, inspire discussion, form a group or coalition, or some combination of the above.

Determine your target audience.
Do you want to reach young people, working professionals, or the community at large? Do you want to reach out to specific groups? Remember to schedule your event at a time when your target audience can participate.

Establish a budget.
Be sure to think in terms of time and human resources, as well as financial costs. If there are budget constraints, are there potential donors you can identify who can provide money, in-kind gifts, or time? Identify potential partners. Are there community groups, schools, bar associations, libraries, museums, or local civic organizations that could collaborate with you to organize, market, or present the program?

Publicize the program and its broader message.
Remember to plan your program—topic, speakers, location, and logistics—with your audience and the need for publicity in

Think creatively about possible venues.
Schools, colleges or universities, libraries, community centers, and government buildings are all good choices, but don’t forget coffee shops, cafes, medical facilities, shopping malls, museums, plazas, and religious centers. Think about asking your state or local bar association to host a program. Brainstorm ways to hold programs in places that community members can easily access, including public places they already frequent.

Identify resources to support your program.
Think about everything from refreshments, audiovisual equipment, and pencils to focus questions, conversation starters, and evaluation tools. Make a list of possible speakers.

3 Months: Keep Things Moving Forward

With a few months to go, it is important to stay focused. Use the following goals to keep yourself and your fellow planners on track.

Identify and confirm presenters or additional volunteers.
Invite lawyers, judges, legal scholars, or community leaders to address the program topic. Consider including a local media personality.

Confirm reservations.
Finalize contracts for any necessary venue, caterer, equipment rental, photographer, or videographer.

Focus on marketing your program.
Work with partners and local media, including television, radio, blogs, websites, or community bulletin boards, to publicize your program. Update your website.

1 Month: Use Time Wisely

In the last month before the program, you should plan to spend a considerable amount of time on preparations.

Finalize program content.
Outline the program goals and audience. Work with presenters or program participants to nail down focus questions, discussion topics, or other necessary details. Draft the program for printing and review it with the planning group.

Distribute a list of planned activities.
Provide everyone with event details and logistics. Provide all presenters, volunteers, and, if applicable, attendees with materials in advance of events.

Conduct a last-minute publicity blitz.

Print program materials.
Finalize printed program materials, such as programs, booklets, agendas, and evaluations.

Generate Buzz
Broaden and diversify your publicity plan to increase your chances of getting media coverage and audience participation.

  • Invite your mayor, governor, legislators, or other state or community leaders to offer welcoming remarks at, or even participate in, your public program.
  • The media likes human interest stories. Your work with youth may be an easier sell to media outlets, but do not overlook possible interesting stories about your presenters, volunteers, or community participation.
  • Broaden and diversify your media plan to increase chances of getting coverage. Mail campaigns, newspapers, radio, websites, blogs, television, flyers on community bulletin boards, and social networking sites all reach different target audiences.

Social Networking
Use social media to help generate “buzz.” Program planners have successfully reached out with blog posts leading up to their programs. Facebook groups, polls, and tweets before, during, and after events also generate interest and publicity.

There are several ways to engage an audience before, during, and after a public program. Think about incorporating these ideas into your event:

Register participants.
Encourage participants to register online in advance of the program and then send them links to blog posts, focus questions, or other conversation starters.

Explain audience participation options to program participants.
Make sure that discussion avenues are accessible to all audience members, and let them know they exist during the program. Consider webcasting your program. Invite virtual audience members to submit questions or comments online.

Ask questions.
Poll audience members during the program—old-fashioned hand-raising, written index cards, or electronic keypads will allow you to determine answers. Encourage audience members to ask questions. Pose questions to the audience via social media before, during, and after the program. Create a Twitter hashtag so you can spot relevant tweets.

Direct participants to additional resources.
List websites, articles, or other resources in the program so audience members know how to continue the conversation.

Administer an evaluation.
Invite audience members to express their opinions about the program. Evaluations could be five questions on a sheet of paper or an online form. Find out what participants liked best about the program and what they learned as well as areas for improvement.


Civility and Free Expression in a Constitutional Democracy is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities under the Bridging Cultures initiative. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Bar Association, or any of its program partners.