At best, town hall meetings provide a forum for employees across a company to connect—communicating important concepts to all levels, forging a collaborative culture and getting everyone on the same page. At worst, they’re simply an excuse for people to step away from their desks for part of the workday, or even covertly glance at their phones between speakers.
What differentiates a successful town hall meeting from one that’s a waste of time? It really boils down to employee engagement. From an organizational standpoint, it’s simply too expensive to host a town hall meeting that doesn’t make an impact on attendees.
Here are 4 tips for better town hall meetings in the workplace.
Set Objectives, Then Start Organizing
Holding an all-hands meeting for the sake of the display is a recipe for disaster. The town hall should follow goals; not the other way around. As one CEO writes for Inc., “Success is too often defined by checking the box (the town hall happened), not whether the session accomplished outcomes like these: Did employees learn something? Do they feel more motivated after the town hall? Are they prepared to take action?”
Start with objectives and work backward from there to structure your meeting in a way that fulfills these goals. This will help you choose relevant programming and order the content you deliver in a conducive way to fulfill your chosen objectives.
Facilitate Interactive Conversations in Real Time
Too often, town hall meetings involve a whole lot of talking at attendees. This encourages them to slip into passive observer roles, which makes it all the easier for them to disengage. Next time, try a town hall meeting format that facilitates real-time, interactive conversations between leaders and attendees in the audience. How? By using an audience response system such as Poll Everywhere to enable attendees to submit live feedback through their mobile devices.
When employees can submit questions, answer trivia questions or contribute to a word cloud, there’s no need to pass the microphone around the room. Furthermore, live polling makes audience members active participants in the overall conversation rather than passive observers.
Avoid Overloading Your Audience
It’s tempting to try to cover as much ground as possible while you have everyone in the same room. But trying to cover too many topics will actually dilute their impact. A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of topics to three or fewer. As one communications specialist writes, “Fewer topics create more focus, increase retention and provide better opportunities for interaction.”
Drilling down into one topic at length leaves attendees with a “takeaway” that aligns with your goals. Trying to pack in a shallower view of many different points may leave employees feeling like being bombarded with information but not sure what the most important points are.
Give Attendees Time to Think and Respond
It’s challenging to pace your town hall meeting quickly enough to promote engagement and stave off boredom, but slowly enough that participants don’t feel like they’re incurring whiplash along the way. It’s important to build in pockets of time for employees to think—and contribute insights via live polling, if you decide to go that route. If you want honest feedback, you need to give people adequate time to formulate questions or choose the answers that best reflect their actual opinions.
One thing you can do to keep things moving along is make sure you issue clear instructions on what attendees should be doing at any given time. This will cut down on time-consuming confusion. For example, make sure you explain to employees how they can use their mobile devices to respond to polls. Or, if you break out into smaller groups, deliver careful instructions so the session doesn’t devolve into chaos.
Use them, and these 4 tips will help you optimize your company’s town hall meetings for everyone’s benefit.