How to Host a Successful Kickoff Meeting or Event

As we discussed in our Community Organizing 101 guide, hosting a house party, kickoff meeting, or community event is one of the most effective first steps for fostering community and building early supporters for your cause or project. Nothing builds community like bringing people together to talk, listen, ask questions, and find common ground.

While planning events does take work, we've seen (and attended) many successful events hosted by first-time organizers. If you have a place, a time, an agenda, and guests - you're hosting an event. Here's an example kickoff meeting agenda you can use, as well as a few other recommendations, best practices, and helpful tips to make your event a success.

Brightest's Sample Kickoff Meeting Agenda

  1. Welcome, introductions, meet your neighbors, and review the meeting agenda (2 - 5 minutes)
  2. Overview of your project, cause, or group, with a focus on it's mission, goal, origin story ("why"), and how it impacts the guests you invited [what's in it for them?] (10 minutes)
  3. Keynote speaker, presentation, or play a supporting video or short film (5 - 15 minutes)
  4. Emphasize and discuss key learnings, findings, next steps, and/or action plan - what are you suggesting people do or think about next? (5 - 10 minutes)
  5. Breakout into small groups for reflection, discussion, or brainstorming [depending on the size of your event this may or may not make sense for your event] (5 - 10 minutes)
  6. Make sure your audience is clear about important meeting themes, takeaways, and next steps (5 - 10 minutes)
  7. Tell everyone about the next meeting (time, place, format) and have your guests sign up for it [mark their calendars, etc.] (2 - 3 minutes)
  8. Thank everyone for coming (1 minute)

Kickoff Meeting Best Practices

It's always important to consider your specific event's location, guests, and goals. However, there are also some general tips and best practices for making your kickoff event a success.

Setup and Preparation. Get to the room or event space ahead of time to set up and decorate. Hang posters around the room and set up the chairs. If you’re using a microphone or any AV equipment, make sure everything is set up, turned on, and working correctly. Get some music playing. Some people may show up early, so plan on being totally set up fifteen minutes before the start of the meeting.

Collect Signups. If you're doing any type of community, social justice, or political organizing, make sure to get name, email, and ideally phone contact info for each of your guests. To save time on data entry or uploads, you can use Brightest on a laptop to easily collect all your event signup info. If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, make sure to have up a sign-in sheet by the entrance door where people can get campaign materials and fill out the sign-in form as soon as they arrive. If you do use a paper sign up sheet, make sure you go and enter that data in a spreadsheet later. We've seen lots of supporter signup info lost or overlooked simply because the data was never entered anywhere.

Make the Meeting Conversational and Interactive. Most people don't want to be talked at for 30 to 60 minutes straight (and will tune out). Keep things engaging, interactive, and dynamic by doing introductions and ice-breakers, using group breakouts and brainstorms, soliciting questions, and making the kickoff meeting feel more community-driven. Give people an immediate chance to feel ownership and start getting involved. If you're doing breakout or discussion groups, consider assigning out different actionable topics or work steps that are relevant to your cause, project, or campaign.

Meet Regularly. With meetings, cadence matters. The more your meetings are regular, predictable, and consistent (same time, same place), the easier it will be to engage and retain guests (and potentially recruit more). At a minimum you should be meeting once a month. For more involved projects or campaigns we recommend holding a regular weekly meeting.

Conclude With Clear Next Steps (a "Call-to-Action") and Things to Do. Plan an event or action soon after the meeting (particularly if you're looking to onboard and engage new volunteers for a task like canvassing or attending a rally) so your people can immediately get involved. The sooner you get them plugged into the flow of your group or chapter, the more likely they are to stay involved (and potentially invite others).

Follow Up. Just because people came to your meeting or event doesn't mean they're ready to support you or fully engaged with your work. This is particularly true if you're organizing unpaid volunteers who aren't necessarily obligated to work with you and are coming to your meeting in their spare time. Make sure to follow-up with attendees within 24 hours to thank them for coming and outline next steps and action items from the night. Include a reminder about the date, time, and place of your next meeting.

Following-up immediately and clearly is a key part of building a core group and capitalizing on the energy and enthusiasm you created during your kickoff meeting. You worked hard to plan your event. People showed up, built affinity, committed to action, and you're happy with the results. Keep building that momentum.

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