5 Secrets of an Engaging Town Hall
"You will never get a second chance to make a first impression." - Will Rogers
This should be the mantra of every Town Hall you put on. Gatherings like town halls can be stressful for your employees – they are torn between getting work done and learning more about the company overall. Given the choice, many employees would likely rather skip a Town Hall in favor of finishing their long to-do lists. Instead, they head to an auditorium, a remote location boardroom, or tune in via their desktop or mobile device to your weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly Town Hall. Knowing this tug-of-war going on in your employees’ minds, the pressure is on you to deliver a top-notch and engaging interaction.
Notice we didn’t say “presentation.” That’s because Town Hall meetings should be – from start to finish – a collaboration and conversation between the host, guest speakers, and the audience. Make it one-way and you’ll lose the crowd.
Here are five tips for creating a great first, and subsequent, impression on your employees via a Town Hall:
Include your attendees in the agenda. Don’t guess what your employees want to know about from leadership and their coworkers, ask them. Use a survey or other engagement tool to solicit ideas for topics. If you have a pool of ideas, let employees rate their interest in the topics to help you focus the agenda. Be flexible. If a lot of employees want to talk about something unexpected, add it to the schedule. You’ll not only show you’re listening and responding, but you’ll most likely address an issue before it becomes a problem.
Put thought into your speaker lineup. It’s easy to just have the CEO host Town Halls but chances are you have an array of talented employees who can take the stage and chat passionately and informatively about some aspect of your business. They don’t have to be professional slideshow barkers to keep attendees’ attention. Maybe Mary in tech support was able to help a large client and wants to relay an account of the experience. Think past presentation decks and consider what information you want to convey and who has the best “voice” to convey it.
Meet with your speakers, facilitators, and tech team ahead of time. Your employees are interrupting their busy day to listen to what you have to say. Don’t waste the opportunity with technical issues or poor preparation. They will never have the same respect for your efforts again. Gather everyone for a run-through and make clear how much time is allotted for each segment. If you opt to do slide presentations – such as running through a set of financials – test-drive the presenter’s ability to operate the software and pre-load the deck to ensure it is compatible and within time constraints.
Build in interactivity. Ironically in this age of advanced videoconferencing technology, remote employees have the most opportunity for interactivity via chat modules, polling, etc. on their desktop or mobile device. The challenge for Town Hall organizers is to give those same capabilities to attendees in the main room without it being a distraction or drawing attention to those who want to ask questions but remain anonymous. West’s Webcast Essentials features an in-room function that enables users to contribute to Town Hall Q&A sessions, polling, and chats via their mobile device browser in a discreet manner. Facilitators can access these results in real-time and incorporate data from all venues. To maximize interactivity, make it clear to attendees that their participation is a priority for the event. The best way to do this is to schedule sufficient time – even if it means shortening the “scripted” part of the Town Hall. Also, allow employees to submit questions ahead of time and anonymously.
Share feedback. Transparency is one of the most difficult aspects of running a Town Hall. No one wants to admit what didn’t work, yet if you don’t, you’re doomed to repeat it and to lower attendance. Using analytics found in Webcast Essentials, you can gauge the impact of your agenda, each speaker’s content delivery, and the level of interactivity among attendees (down to the type of device and location from which the webcast was viewed). If you notice a drop-off in interest by employees outside the U.S., you might consider adding more content relevant to international operations to the agenda. Or maybe you’ll find (via an open-ended question that asks about their experience with the Town Hall) that their bandwidth was not sufficient to stream at a high enough quality. If employees take the time to offer you feedback, thank them and explain how you intend to solve each issue. All Town Meetings should be available on demand in an easy-to-access online repository. Event organizers should ask these viewers for their feedback as well.
It’s easy to consider the Town Hall meeting a showcase of your leadership and to create a “look at us” event. Instead, every minute of your scripted and unscripted agenda should focus on your employees and the information they need to do their jobs better, embrace the culture of the organization, and better serve your customers.
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