Are You Ready to Meet the Public?

Traffic engineers are no strangers to public meetings. Traffic is often the most visible part of a project and, as we like to say, no one questions the need for a 24-inch sewer pipe but everyone has opinions on how to fix the roads. Assuming the type and purpose are figured out, how do we prepare for a public meeting?

First is to make sure all the components are ready, ideally a day or two before the meeting so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Here’s our quick list of items, keeping in mind not all will be necessary depending upon the type of meeting you are having (open house, results presentation, etc.):

+ Name tags
+ Sign-in sheets
+ Summary sheet hand-out
+ Comment sheets
+Other office items, like tape, paper clips, rubber bands, etc. (we have a box of standard items to carry to meetings because you never know what you might need)
+ Signs announcing the meeting and directing people to the meeting room
+ Display boards for your project information
+ Easels to hold the displays
+ Tables for plans, displays and other information that will not be on easels or taped to the wall
+ Tables and chairs for the public to sit, watch the presentation, make comments, etc.
+ Projector and PowerPoint presentation
+ Rough room layout and how you plan to set everything up
+ Assignments for personnel working the room
+ Water and/or treats

You may also need specialty items for specific displays. For instance, we have used to-scale hot wheel cars on a roundabout display board to be able to demonstrate various traffic movements. We needed the cars or that display board would be borderline useless for its intended purpose.

Beyond being prepared to set-up and host the meeting, you also need to prepare yourself. This generally includes bringing yourself back up to speed on the project and its parameters/conclusions as well as being mentally ready to talk with people. Here’s our general way to get ourselves ready:

+ Visit the project site to review the existing conditions again
+ Re-read the study report(s) that have been publicized
+ Practice your presentation, preferable in front of co-workers (if you can manage in front of people you know, strangers tend to be less intimidating)
+ Visualize potential questions and how you will answer them
+ Be prepared with both important stats and stories to rely that information
+ Get a good night’s sleep, being well-rested will help you remain calm in the face of heated discussions

Remember to be an active listener at the meeting and be sincere. Don’t take things personally if they don’t like your solutions. As our recommendations can affect everyday life, people want to be heard even if it’s only to vent about an issue not exactly at the forefront of your project.

Even though we fit some stereotypes of typical engineers, we actually do like public meetings. It’s the opportunity to explain your work, listen to other takes from people who live in the area, and potentially hear new information that could reinforce your plan or make you consider adjustments. Being diligent in your preparation before and during the meeting will make all the difference for a successful one.

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