CitySpeak Event Forum Guidelines Published

With last month’s discussions of policing, racism, and pandemic responses behind us – and a political season forthcoming, we’ve seen the community’s response to our CitySpeak Forums increase. Along with that increase, curiosity over how we conduct these forums has also arisen.  

Our primary purposes for these panels are to inform, and offer constructive dialogue along a variety of viewpoints. We believe it’s a societal imperative to connect experts, information gatherers, decision-makers, leaders, and the public. We generally have featured panelists, a moderator or co-moderators, and the audience is almost always invited to ask questions of the panelists.  

We’ve seen panelists change the mind of an audience at these forums, and conversely, we’ve seen a single audience member ask a question that changes the minds of everyone on the panel. This also applies to office holders and seekers, and we on the Editorial Board view forums like these as essential to the democratic process. These forums often figure significantly into our endorsement process.  

Advocate Standards & Practices  

Beyond our stated values and editorial standards, we’ve applied what many moderators see as best practices. Because most of our forums have something to do with public affairs, we’ve adopted some of our practices from organizations like the City Club of Cleveland, one of the longest serving City Clubs in the country, and the League of Women Voters. But, most particularly, we’ve adopted quite a number of our practices from the Urban Institute.  

Selection & Preparation  

We seek panelists for the information and viewpoints they can provide. If the forum is a debate among candidates for office, the same holds especially true.   

This means that some speakers are more experienced than others. So, we schedule times to prepare panelists and debaters before they appear – this allows them to better anticipate the format, and at least, some questions. Some organizations don’t do this, and while the resulting debate performance may cause sparks and headlines, we don’t view that as useful. Our goal is for audience members to get a genuine sense of a panelist’s thinking, rather than their debate skills.   

Panel prep also helps moderators to better understand how to help each panelist articulate, and adds to the research moderators undertake to be useful facilitators for the audience.  

Audience Facilitation  

Our audiences have made clear that they attend our forums to hear the panelists, so we have settled on the policy that attendees are welcome to raise questions, rather than make statements. Most moderators believe this discourages ad hoc speechifying, and encourages a deeper dialogue between the audience and panelists.  

Likewise, most of the literature focused on best practices assumes moderators should reframe or contextualize audience questions and panelists’ answers as needed – the goal being a conversation that is both quick moving, and clear, even for attendees that may not have much knowledge on a topic.   

Sometimes this can be jarring for audience members that are more knowledgeable on a subject than the general public, but our panelists have always expressed appreciation for this effort.   

Importantly, during prep, we encourage panelists to speak up if they believe the moderator missed something – and when a panelist does do that, moderators quite genuinely appreciate the exchange. Likewise, we also prepare panelists to be cut off if the moderator believes the speaker has already sufficiently answered a question – and again, panelists are encouraged to let the moderator know if they have an additional point to make. 

Also, we encourage the expression of a diversity of viewpoints, including the ones that aren’t popular. Our moderators will protect the expression of unpopular views and questions. Our belief is that the sunlight of constructive dialogue is more useful than to push an unpopular viewpoint into the mysterious recesses of a community.   

We hope everyone that participates in these forums gets something out of the experience, and we would be remiss if we did not express our gratitude for everyone that is involved. We’ve met wonderful people at these forums, both panelists and attendees, and we appreciate the opportunity to serve in this way.  


Our attendees tell us they really want to hear from our panelists, and that their interests tend to be stoked by the topic being discussed, so our ground rules reflect those priorities.  

  • Livestream viewers submit questions over social media and email before and during events. Sometimes the moderator can simply read these verbatim, but oftentimes they’ll need to be reframed for brevity or conversational clarity.  
  • At live events, our moderators ask audiences for permission if a questioner goes beyond 30 seconds, and beyond 60 seconds, the moderator is obligated to return to the panelists for an answer, and will do their best to reframe the question. Also, if a question is sufficiently outside the scope of a forum, the moderator may choose to move on to the next questioner. 
  • At both livestream and live events, we see the question form as most conducive to eliciting information from our panelists, and the form also seems to encourage brevity. If a viewer query comes as a statement, moderators are asked to reframe it to the question form, if they can. 
  • Moderators are subject to approval by our Editorial Board, and must meet certain requirements. 
  • Our moderators have the authority to block participants on social media, or require that a participant leave a live event. 
  • No set of standards and practices is applicable in every situation our moderators have the authority to make exceptions. They also have the authority to deny a request for exception. 
  • We appreciate your feedback. Please email us at 

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