Forum Planning Information [Working document]


This document is intended to collect examples of materials used, insights into what worked well, and what did not into one place. Hopefully, it will give anyone considering putting on state-wide forums in the future a starting point.

Table of Contents

National Guidance and Resources

The LWVUS published Face to Face LWV Debate Guide. This guide was written for national level forums, and last updated in 2007, but is well worth becoming familiar with and drawing materials from as appropriate. A more current resource is the Guidelines for State And Local League Debates including “empty chair” debates.

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Laying the Groundwork

The LWVWA Board should decide that putting on state-wide forums is what they want to do then address the following and document their expectations

  • Primary and/or general elections,
  • Offices to hold forums for,
  • Who is going to run this effort,
  • Amount of budget,
  • Forum timing (this requires a detailed election calendar (see example from 2016) that is generated from a variety of sources, including the Secretary of State and from local county election offices and auditors' offices.)
  • What qualifies as state-wide office (this question came up with the state representatives),
  • What expectations are there of the sponsors, co-sponsors and partners (financial, in kind, other), this needs to be fairly administer throughout the forums cycle so it should be defined upfront.

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Overall Strategy

The person identified to run the effort should establish the overall strategy based on the Board inputs. The 2016 strategy was to hold forums on both sides of the state and cover as many down ticket (not the senate or the gubernatorial races) as reasonable.

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The Board needs to set money aside for the forums to cover costs such as advertising, venue and other costs. The 2016 forums used approximately $2000 primarily on venues. Selection of partners can be done based on their ability to provide a venue at no or reduced cost and this was done several times for the 2016 effort.

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Chain of Command/Oversight

The method used for the 2016 forums was for a Forum Focal or Manager to be appointed. The Forum Manager reported to the Board regularly, but apprised the Board President of issues on an as needed basis. A group that was interested in the working on the forums was used as a sounding board with approximately monthly updates on progress and requests for assistance in specific areas being issued. Individuals with specific expertise were called on as required. At least two LWV representatives attended all forum related meetings with co-sponsors and potential co-sponsors.

Each forum held had local league involvement. The local league helped identify venues, moderators, sponsors and partners, local advertising, volunteers and anything else that was needed locally at the specific locations. In one case providing day-care was considered because of the expected audience.

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TV and Internet Coverage

In 2008 arrangements were made with KOMO TV to broadcast the gubernatorial forum (see Fisher MOU). In 2016, letters asking about interest in broadcasting our forums were sent to KOMO, KING, KIRO, KCTS and TVW (see sample letter). As a result, meetings were set up with KCTS and TVW. Both were interested in being part of our efforts to get the forums to the public. Subsequently, KCTS dropped out due to a commitment with Seattle City Club (they were holding senate and gubernatorial debates).

TVW was excellent to work with. They provided a list of Off-site Webcasting Requirements that are no doubt now out-of-date in their specifics, but offer a guideline for what kinds of technical requirements you may encounter. We learned late in the forum cycle that the debates could be live-streamed via Facebook (TVW did not realize it either) and so we took advantage of that for the last few forums. That should be done for all the forums in the future. A relationship was developed with the TV programming producer so that TVW crews were sent to almost all of our events. Where they were not able to cover the event due to a conflict, contact was made with local area City TV broadcasters and they were able to provide a broadcast crew and the film was then shared with TVW for state-wide airing.

We were provided with a What Not to Wear on TV document by the local Bellingham TV station to provide to the candidates.

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State-Wide Locations

We strove to get eastern Washington leagues involved for the 2016 forums. Of the 19 forum events, we were able to hold three forums in eastern WA, but only for the general election.

In the future, I would try to reach out to the various local leagues asking about their interest at convention or council to try to firm up locations earlier.

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Planning Each Event

Each event is unique because each local league has different strengths and needs. It is imperative to have early buy in and dedicated participation form the local leagues for volunteers, venue arrangements, local publicity and local partners, sponsors and co-sponsors. Please see Forum Planning Table, Putting on a Forum, Your Quick Forum To-Do List,and Why Local League Should Use State-Wide Forum Resources. Also included in the example documents is a sample Kick Off Forum Planning Agenda that was used on several occasions for the initial meeting with the local group that was going to be involved with the forum.

A schedule of the forums that can be shared with the various league members working on planning events was also found to be useful (Schedule and Publicity Plan).


1. Identify other nonprofits in your district who would be good partners

See Sponsors/Co-Sponsors section.

2. Set date, time, and place for the forum

The forum should be held during the middle of the week and in the evening to allow ample time for attendees to arrive after work/daytime commitments. It is generally best to start the forum between 6–7:30 p.m. Because so many people rely on public transportation, especially in the larger metro areas, it is important to ensure plenty of time after the work day has finished for everyone to arrive at the event.

Check out community calendars to make sure that there are no competing community events on the evening you are scheduling your forum. Keep in mind that on Fridays most people have their own social plans, so avoid hosting forums on Fridays when possible. Finish on time. Journalists covering the event often prefer earlier end times because of deadline restrictions.

Finally, we’d suggest making the place for the forum centrally located in the district and near a transit line for easy access. Be sure to ask the facility about safety requirements and adhere to them strictly. Make provisions for childcare at the forum and make sure your location is disability accessible.

3. Decide on the forum’s format

See Forum Formats Section for more details on format options. Also decide on time limits for each candidate’s response; this will depend on how many candidates attend.

4. Develop a budget

Develop a budget for the forum early and stick to it. Don’t let costs get out of hand.


1. Invite all candidates.

Send out a letter inviting the candidates.

Make a phone call to say the letter is coming. Then make a phone call after the letter has arrived to encourage a response. It is very important to the candidates that forums remain nonpartisan. Therefore, emphasize that as a 501(c)(3) you must ensure the forum is nonpartisan. Also, keep in mind that some candidates might not fully understand the impact that nonprofit organizations have in their districts. Therefore, be sure to include this information in the conversations you have and materials you provide to candidates. Maintain contact with candidates throughout the planning process. This helps to ensure they are comfortable with the format and will participate as planned.

2. Initiate contact with media.

Make a list of media sources you would like to promote and/or cover the event (newspaper, radio, television — don’t forget about small community media sources or non-English language media sources).

Contact these media sources. Send email and hard copy of a media advisory which should include date, time, place of the forum and co-sponsoring organizations. Designate a spokesperson to be the media liaison and to follow up with media regularly. This is a good role for communications staff. (For more information on the role of media in planning a candidate forum, see Publicity section.)


1. Volunteer recruitment

Your forum planning committee should make a list of volunteer needs both for publicizing and planning prior to the forum and on the day of the event. There are many roles for volunteers (e.g. passing out fliers in advance, set up and tear down of space, greeting audience members, collecting audience questions for Q&A). Be sure to have enough volunteers to comfortably cover all of your needs. Email and call your organization’s members and constituents to request volunteers.

2. Select a moderator

The moderator should be someone who is well-respected and viewed by the public as politically neutral and nonpartisan. Ideally, the moderator should be someone who lives outside of the voting district. The perceived objectivity of your moderator is crucial to candidates, the media and forum-sponsoring organizations. A journalist is a good person to choose as the moderator due to their experience with being objective and nonpartisan. It is your job to prepare your moderator well (give them questions in advance if possible, review process and format with them, help them to shape conversations, and do practice runs).

In general, there are two ways to go on moderator selection, 1. a public personality like a journalist, or 2. an experienced league moderator. The journalist type automatically gives you more publicity. Also, if there is a large ethnic group in the area where the forum is being held, consider asking a representative of that group to moderator or introduce the candidates.

On the other hand, the league moderator gives you more control.

3. Follow up with candidates you’ve invited

Confirm all candidates’ attendance. If you’ve not heard back from a candidate, contact again. Let them know which other candidates you expect to attend. Remember you generally need at least two candidates, unless the candidate attending your forum is running unopposed. Request brief bios from candidates to use when introducing them at the forum. Be sure you and your moderator know how to pronounce candi- dates’ names correctly.

4. Strategy for turnout

We can’t say it enough: turnout is everything! Sit down with your planning committee and come up with a strategy for getting people to the forum. Each organization should target their own constituents and members. Get buy-in from community leaders who will agree to promote the forum to their community members. Advertise on your organization’s website and in community newspapers. Be creative and don’t leave any stone unturned!

This is where getting a local newspaper to co-sponsor helps (eg., Olympian) or radio or TV personality (eg., NPR reporter).

Also where there are coalitions with strong interests in the outcome you can contact them and ask for potential questions. Use this as an opening to provide materials about the event and ask them to forward materials to their members.


1. Final confirmation of candidates

Get a confirmation in writing (email is fine) from each participating candidate. This will allow your organization to go forward with the forum even if a candidate cancels at the last minute.

Notify candidates about the format of the forum, the schedule, and other arrangements (e.g., parking, literature table, opportunity for one-on-one contact with voters). Also, if there are foreseeable problems, let the candidates know ahead of time such as if you expect protesters. Failure to share such information might decrease the likelihood that candidates will agree to attend another forum sponsored by your organization.

2. Reconfirm site arrangements

Make sure that your reserved site has all of the accommodations you have requested — including set-up instructions for the room, tables, microphones, etc.

If you have separate arrangements for providing microphones or any other needed equipment from outside vendors, sponsors, or volunteers, confirm these now, as well.

3. Reconfirm volunteers

Remind volunteers of their duties and reconfirm their attendance.

4. Distribute promotional materials

This is a great opportunity to maximize roles for volunteers. Promotional materials should encourage attendance by constituents and might include flyers, mailings within the district and phone calls to important community leaders (e.g., chairperson of neighborhood association).

5. Contact media to promote coverage

Follow up with the media contacts you have made. Let them know about any new developments in the forum, including which candidates have committed to attend. Ask the media source to promote the event in a community events calendar or with a public service announcement. Be prepared to provide promotional materials about your forum and organization upon request.

6. Reconfirm moderator

Reconfirm the event with your moderator. Answer any questions they may have about facilities (podium, microphones, etc.) Ask if there is anything they need to feel comfortable and prepared.


1. Continue to recruit attendees

Make phone calls, send emails, get local media coverage and knock on doors. Do whatever it takes to ensure turnout. Tailor your message to your organizations constituents as an opportunity for them to bring forth the issues they care about.

2. Contact volunteers to confirm their duties at the forum

Remember that you will need some volunteers to be at the forum earlier than others, depending on their duties. Have a staff member in charge of volunteers for the evening to keep the event running smoothly.

3. Final media reminders and press release

Create a press release to share all information that helps sell your forum as newsworthy to media personnel. For example, if there are questions you have prepared for candidates, share those with media personnel. Follow up with a reminder call one day before the event. Provide media packets that include information on your organization, co-sponsoring organizations and candidate information. This should include forum format as well.

4. Write an op-ed piece

Articulate the importance of informed voting and pitch your forum as a vehicle. This might include issues your organization hopes will be covered at the forum. Be sure to restate the nonpartisan nature of the forum. This should be written by the leader of your organization(s).

5. Select a timekeeper for the event

This should be a confident, politically-savvy person who prioritizes keeping the forum on schedule. When selecting a timekeeper, keep in mind that this person will need to interrupt people in order to keep time. Provide timekeeper color coded cards during the forum for timing: green card = start, yellow card = 30 seconds remain, orange card = 10 seconds remain, red card = stop.

Bells should only be used where a candidate need an audio cue or when the candidate has gone past the red card stop.


1. Complete set-up at forum facility

Be sure to allow ample time, staff and volunteers for your set-up needs. Bring nameplates for candidates, the moderator and any other important persons at your forum. Don’t forget to have a table outside the forum for candidates to distribute materials and for co-sponsoring organizations’ materials. Provide plenty of room for media to set up cameras and equipment if you expect them to attend. 

2. Have volunteers greet audience and candidates

Have a staff person (or trusted volunteer) assigned to greet and escort each candidate. Identify a point person (typically staff) for volunteers to seek out in case of problems. Have plenty of volunteers to collect audience questions before the event if your format has a Q&A section. Have staff members review the questions for content. Make sure the greeters are not impeding access to the venue.

3. Set-up a head table

Set up a table where candidates will speak from during the forum. Include nameplates, a table skirt and microphone(s).

4. Welcome and thank-yous

Typically, this is the moderator’s job, but it also might be the President or Executive Director. Don’t forget to thank each candidate, co-sponsoring organization, volunteers and staff.

5. Review the ground rules for the forum

Again, this is the moderator’s role and should include reviewing the forum format your organization has pre-selected (see Forum Formats section). Also at this time the moderator reminds the audience of the nonpartisan nature of the event, including that no cheering/shouting will be allowed.

6. Informal Q&A period after the forum

This informal Q&A time after the official forum ends is optional though highly recommended. Even if your forum is formatted to use questions generated by the audience, it is beneficial to provide time after the forum for the audience to ask questions to the candidates informally. Candidates want forums to reach a broad nonpartisan audience. Therefore, they encourage forum sponsors to include Q&A sessions to cover issues that might not arise during the forum.

Use materials such a banners or plaques to advertise the LWV when putting on the event.

Examples of invitations, ground rules, scripts, reminder to the candidates, fliers, program, press release and LWVWA Opening comments are available in the documents.

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Keeping Your Forum Nonpartisan

Not only is it necessary for 501(c)(3) organizations, but it also encourages broad attendance by candidates, more interest from the media and is a powerful tool for engaging your community around the issues that matter to them. Some guidelines from the IRS:

  • The forum should cover a broad range of issues.
  • Each candidate should be given equal time to present his or her view on the issues discussed.
  • The candidates are not asked to agree or disagree with specific positions or platforms of the sponsoring organizations.
  • The moderator stays neutral and does not imply approval or disapproval of the candidates.

Staying nonpartisan is pretty straight-forward. Here are some more tried-and-true tips from the experts:


Invite all viable candidates for a specific office to your forum and make an equal effort to encourage each of them to attend. Candidates who could not participate in the forum and let us know a reasonable time before the forum were given the opportunity to provide a 250 word statement that was read at the forum. We did not tell them about this opportunity until after they RSVP'd (we had one candidate who did not RSVP at all). The statements were not contained in the handouts at the forum.

If it is a two-candidate race and only one agrees to attend, you should not go forward with your forum. In a multi-candidate race at least two must confirm.

Confirm with candidates! If it is a two-candidate race, and one cancels with very little notice (after having confirmed attendance), or worse—doesn’t show up, you may go forward with the candidate event as planned. Just make sure to announce that this is no way signifies the endorsement of the attending candidate by your organization.


You may want to have one or more staff members in charge of reviewing audience questions before handing them to the moderator. Your forum should avoid any leading questions that point to a desired answer from candidates. It’s ok to ask straightforward questions on the issues as long as you take care to provide some balance across partisan lines. We solicited questions from as many organizations that had an interest in the various offices as we could think of. We also solicited questions form the sponsoring organizations.

Ground Rules Inside the Forum Hall

Partisan Attire: While not required, you may want to ask audience members to check their partisan materials at the door. This means no partisan buttons or apparel. This can help to create a sense of unity and nonpartisanship within the forum hall. The flip side, however, is that sometimes asking people to take their apparel items off can cause an adversarial relationship between the audience and the sponsor(s) from the beginning.

Signs: Ask that signs be left outside of the hall. While buttons on audience members can be ok, not only do partisan signs prevent a unified, collegial relationship in the hall, but signs on sticks can be unintentionally dangerous.

The Audience: In a nonpartisan setting, ask the audience to respectfully refrain from excessive exuberance for or against a particular candidate.

Site Selection

Choose a neutral site for your forum—one that is not associated with any party, candidate or overly partisan issue.


Provide nonpartisan voter guides, voter registration and get-out-the-vote materials for your audience. Have a separate table outside the room of the forum for candidates to place their campaign literature.

Use the forum as a platform to promote the league with appropriate literature.

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Co-sponsoring organizations are helpful in several additional ways: logistics, volunteers, name-power, constituents, and more.  Gauge the level of involvement from co-sponsor organizations. For example, will the co-sponsors help plan the forum or simply be recognized on press releases? Will they assist in getting their organizational membership to attend the forum? Ideally, candidate forums should reach an audience broader than one organization’s members and co-sponsorship can help recruit participants. If the co-sponsors choose to be involved in planning, establish a planning committee with representatives from each co-sponsoring organization. Once you have gathered a planning committee, create a big to-do list and assign tasks. Everyone should be responsible for turnout! 

While selecting partners, sponsors, and co-sponsors is important for turnout (see Better Attendance below), venue cost and advertising, but can send the wrong message to the public if they are not vetted appropriately.

Consideration is selecting

  • Have they endorsed, made contributions or made negative comments regarding candidates (see the Endorsement Statement)?
  • Do you have balance in the sponsorship (one from the right and one from the left)?
  • Can they provide a venue at low or no cost, advertising or other needed support are they willing to make a cash donation to the Education Fund?

Early in the planning process it was decided to approach all three Law schools in Washington to ask if they would consider holding a Supreme Court forum. An example of the letter sent is in the Documents section.

In 2016 the question of asking for contributions for organizations to be sponsors or co-sponsors did not come up until we were well into the forums and then it was difficult to establish ground rules. Make sure this is sorted before you start so you have an agreed on procedure that is evenly administered. Additionally, the LWVWA Board approved a definition of what constituted a partner, sponsor and co-sponsor. This definition was agreed on midway through the forum process, so it was difficult to apply. This definition is XXXX.

Example request for Co-Sponsorship. A co-sponsors list used in the 2016 forums can be found in the documents.

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Candidate Considerations

Recommend that the candidates be told they need to be present for a mic check 30 minutes before the event start. There is no reason for them to be earlier, but if they are late you can still recover. Candidate Day of Instruction example is in the documents section.

All candidates were invited to each forum. Candidates who could not participate in the forum and let us know a reasonable time before the forum were given the opportunity to provide a 250 word statement that was read at the forum. We did not tell them about this opportunity until after they RSVP'd (we had one candidate who did not RSVP at all). The statements were not contained in the handouts at the forum.

Multiple candidates participated in every forum held in 2016, so the question of how to handle an open seat never had to be addressed. This should be agreed upon before the forum cycle starts and possibly conveyed to the candidates. The Minnesota LWV took the position that they would hold the event even if there was only one candidate.

When a candidate RSVP’d they could not come, they were given the opportunity to provide a 250 word statement to be read by the moderator. We did not tell them about the opportunity until AFTER they RSVP’d and the statements were NOT contained in the handouts at the forum. Thank you notes were sent to the candidates after the forums. This can be done by either the local league or the State-Wide Manger. An example is shown in Example Thank You to Candidates.

An Event Recording Guest Release Form example is included in the documents. This was used for the early forums, but we were told that most TV groups don’t bother anymore so we stopped.

What the Candidates Want

It is helpful to have a clear understanding of what the candidates hope for in a nonprofit candidate forum. Use this information to entice candidates to attend.

  1. A large audience!
    Candidates are spread very thin during a campaign season. They cannot attend every event to which they are invited. You and your co-sponsoring organizations should focus on turnout to increase the chances that candidates will attend. Be sure to communicate your expected audience size to the candidates in advance. Also, a large turnout at your candidate forum demonstrates that your organization has influence on voters.
    n the digital age, don’t disregard the other half of your audience: the audience on TV—both broadcast and online streaming—as well as on social media. 
  2. A guarantee of neutrality
    Candidates will avoid any event where they think they could be “ganged up” on—especially if the media is expected to attend. In all of your communications with the candidates, remind them of the nonpartisan nature of the forum and share any ground rules you have established to keep everything neutral.
  3. A trusted and well-respected nonprofit in the district
    Candidates are aware of nonprofits that have held successful and neutral candidate forums in the past and will be more likely to attend if those organizations are involved. This is often where the League comes in.

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Venue considerations

When selecting a venue there are several considerations. Expected size of the audience, parking availability for the attendees, easy of locating the venue for the audience are all considerations. Cost is a consideration, but, selection of a partner of co-sponsor who can give access for free or a reduced rate worked well for the 2016 venues. Other considerations are the lighting and the acoustics for the audience hearing and seeing the candidates. Also, if the event is being televised, the camera folks may have preferences if they have used the venue previously.

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The media plays a critical role in the success of your forum. It might be easiest to think of engaging the media in two equally important stages: publicity before the event as well as coverage at the event:

Media before — draws a crowd, gets you publicity and makes candidates take the forum more seriously.

Media at the event — raises the profile of your nonprofit, raises awareness of the election and the candidates’ positions, makes your organization a source for future stories about the impact of elections on your neighborhood.


  1. Promote, promote, promote! Use newsletters, e-mails, phone calls, flyers, public service announcements, op-ed pieces, radio — anything you can think of to generate interest and an audience. Build intrigue whenever possible.
  2. Don’t forget about new media sources and social networking websites. If there are influential blogs or websites in your area, let them know about your candidate forum. If the blogs are partisan, include bloggers or sites promoting all viewpoints. Depending on your audience, consider posting a notice about your forum on Facebook. And as always, promote the candidate forum on your website, the website of co-sponsors, and in your email communications to constituents.
  3. Talk to your local radio station to find out how to get an announcement on the air.
  4. Try to personally visit media outlets, especially newspaper editors and editorial boards. This establishes a relationship and will allow you to set up a media “liaison.” Provide regular media updates to this person.
  5. Consider asking a local anchor/reporter to facilitate the forum. This strategy could improve chances for media converge, but it would also generate the potential for piquing any existing rivalry issues between local media groups.
  6. Make sure there is adequate space for the media — a place for cameras, designated press section, and a place for interviews. Also provide a press packet that includes information about your organization (and cosponsor organizations), information about the candidates, and the rules of the forum. Let the media know you value their participation. Make it as easy for them as possible. Cater to their planning, deadline, and technological needs.
  7. You have the benefit of being nonpartisan and this is a selling point to get the media on board. They want to provide objective coverage of the facts and a forum is an ideal format. Make sure you are explicit to the media about your nonpartisanship and how that is good for them.
  8. Frame your forum as a “community event” — one that brings citizens together for the purpose of creating public value. You are providing information so voters can engage in the democratic process and influence their government.
  9. The League of Women Voters is THE most-respected name in the United States as an organizer of candidate forums. However, to build your audience and attract good attention, consider getting at least one other well-known nonpartisan sponsor like a college or newspaper, if you are not already planning for other well-respected organizations in your district as potential co-sponsors.

This can go a long way in attracting candidates and media. Chambers of commerce, special interest groups, other elected officials, and religious organizations are usually interested in motivating their members to vote. If they are included in promotion you will reach a broader audience.

Ask various organizations for questions and following up to remind them of the deadline for receiving the questions. Ask them to send out info about the event to their members through their newsletters and mailing lists.

Press releases and fliers were used for the 2016 forums. The most effective was fliers provided to sponsors, co-sponsors and partners and ask them to publicize through their networks. Having more of a web presence may have helped, but we did not have the expertise to do that. Included in the documents are example fliers (see documents below). The LWVWA website also posted the events in a table (Schedule of forums) that linked the reader to the videos after the fact and to the fliers prior to the events. This table was updated frequently as the forums changed and more were added frequently throughout the election season.

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Questions Gathered for the Various Offices

Questions were requested from as broad a spectrum of organizations as possible. Requesting the questions gave an opportunity to re contact the organization to remind them of the event and invite them to inform their members about the event. Questions gathered for various state-wide offices can be found in the documents section (I have lots more questions for each office we held a forum for and they can be added if that is thought to be advisable. OSPI Questions, Spokane Judicial questions asked, Lt Gov questions,

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Forum Formats


The first thing on your to-do list is selecting the format of your forum. When you decide, remember that it’s important to select the option that BEST meets your community’s needs.

  1. Equal Time Q&A
    An impartial moderator and/or panelists question the candidates, who are allowed equal response time. Traditionally, the candidates are unaware of the exact questions but know the established focus of the program.
    In fairness, candidates should be asked the same questions, however, when there are many candidates, asking each candidate in succession a different question, with the other candidates concurring or disagreeing is one way to keep the answers lively and fresh. This is less of a challenge in the General election, when the candidates have been narrowed to two.

  2. Prepared and Spontaneous Debate
    Prior to the forum, the candidates are presented with several prepared questions constructed to elicit detailed responses. A selection of these questions will be asked at the forum. Candidates will then be asked to give spontaneous answers to questions that originate with the moderator, their opponents and/or the audience.

  3. Follow-Up Q&A
    In this approach, the moderator and/or panelists ask the candidates questions.
    To avoid evasive answers to the original question, follow-up questions are permitted. Follow-up questions by opponents force candidates to present exact answers.

  4. Discourse Debate
    The moderator asks a question, and the candidates discuss the issue. It is imperative to have the moderator control candidates who try to dominate the discussion. A strong nonpartisan moderator is a must for this forum design.

  5. Town Meeting Q&A
    Members of the audience ask all questions. Questions should be screened by a staff member of your organization in order to avoid partisan questions and to facilitate substantive dialogue. The audience members asking questions will educate the candidate on the concerns of the constituency.

  6. Feedback/Hearings
    Focus the forum on issues specific to your organization. For each of these issues, select an expert to present their concerns and suggest solutions. After the expert presenta- tion, the moderator or panelists will ask the candidates to respond with specific program proposals to answer the concerns presented. The candidates will be allowed to make closing remarks after all agenda items have been discussed.

  7. Unconventional Candidate Events
    As long as you follow the guidelines of nonpartisanship, you need not limit your candidate event to the formats outlined above. Feel free to be creative and do something fun that appeals to your constituency. Known innovative nonprofit candidate events include karaoke with the candidates (this took place at a bar, each candidate sings a song, followed by 3–5 minutes to address the audience).

  8. Adding on Informal Q&A
    With any of these options, consider adding an informal question & answer session at the end of the formal proceedings. The questions still need to be screened and never give the microphone to an audience member.


A script was used for all the forums. Example Scripts have been included in the documents. At each forum the LWVWA representative (usually the President) made opening comments, a couple of minutes was given to sponsors, co-sponsors, partners as negotiated ahead. The local LWV representative also made comments and usually introduced the moderator. Many times we had one of the sponsors, co-sponsors, or partners make closing comments.

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Questions from the Audience

Audience questions were gathered real time at each event. Blank 3x5 cards were handed out to audience members and picked up by runners. The questions screened by LWV representatives to consolidate and clean up before the questions were conveyed to the moderator on stage. NO questions were allowed to be asked directly from the audience.

Usually the scripted questions were asked first then the moderator used the last 15 minutes or so to ask audience questions. However, in a couple of instances, the moderator decided to ask the audience questions first and then use the scripted questions as filler at the end. While admirable, there were problems. The moderator didn’t really keep track and asked the same questions in a different form more than once and the broader spectrum of questions did not get asked. The audience however liked this approach.

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Final Tips


  1. Start planning late.
  2. Just assume the public will attend.
  3. Send press releases without personal follow-up.
  4. Assume the press will attend without multiple incentives and “new news” to cover.
  5. Ignore community, neighborhood or non-English language publications.
  6. Ignore local radio talk shows or media with natural constituencies.
  7. Let the planning group think the promotion committee members don’t need to attend the early planning sessions. (Promotion is an important part of the planning process.)
  8. Forget signs on buildings so people know where the forum is taking place.
  9. Forget that people need instruction about what will occur at the forum. (Who asks questions, how long answers can be, when does the audience participate and how — written questions, oral questions etc.).
  10. Confuse the audience by keeping them in the dark regarding the process or format of the forum.


  1. Other agencies and nonprofits in your neighborhood — or relevant to your target constituency
  2. Nonpartisan organizations, such as the League of Women Voters
  3. Civics or political science high school and college teachers or professors
  4. Issue groups such as arts, environment, human services, youth, immigrants, etc.
  5. Local churches, synagogues, mosques or other faith communities — many have social justice, peace and outreach committees
  6. Local businesses

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Useful Document Samples

Correspondence Examples

Candidate Invitations to Participate

(insert links to example letters)

Ground Rules for Candidate Forums

(insert links to examples)

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The League of Women Voters of Washington is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization.
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