A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting that gives the members of a community an opportunity to get together to discuss emerging issues and to voice concerns and preferences for their community. A typical meeting is attended by both citizens and officials, giving everyone a chance to talk personally in a relaxed environment about the things which matter to them. Typically, the organization and leadership are minimal, encouraging people to settle their differences amicably and with help from friends.
The concept of the town hall meeting is borrowed from the traditional town meeting style of government used in New England. In this style, the citizens of a town get together to decide on issues of important to the community, like budgeting, purchase of new equipment for emergency services, and so forth. All of the members present can vote, and they can also discuss issues directly with elected officials. The town meeting system continues to be used in many small New England towns, with citizens also voting in regional, state, and national elections.
Many politicians have seized upon the town hall meeting as an excellent public relations tactic. By organizing such a meeting along a stump tour, a politician can indicate that he or she really cares about the issues which constituents face, and the politician also has a chance to meet people directly. For personable politicians, this can be a great way to win votes and followers, as people are often impressed by politicians they meet in person, especially candidates for major offices.
The structure of the meeting is usually very loose. Typically, officials sit in the front, facing the group, and the group is seated in rows. When the meeting is opened, people in the group can ask questions or bring issues up, and the officials and other members of the group may respond. When heated issues arise, the atmosphere may become less orderly, but usually members of the group are capable of policing each other to ensure that everyone is heard.
Participating in a town hall meeting can be an excellent experience. People of all ages and backgrounds show up at such meetings, bringing their own perspectives and issues to the table. Especially for people new to a community, this can be a great way to learn about the issues facing the community, and to get an idea of who holds the most power and influence in the community, as well.