Company Town Hall Meetings
Communicating to a Large Audience
Have you ever been to a "town hall" style meeting in your organization?
When done well, this type of meeting can be exciting, informative, and motivating. They can open up constructive dialogue with the leadership team in your organization, and address any concerns or issues that people are worrying about.
However, poorly led town hall meetings can leave people feeling confused, unheard, and even dispirited. Badly organized meetings waste time, and hurt productivity.
In this article, we'll examine company town hall meetings in detail, and we'll discuss how you can make the best use of the opportunities that a town hall meeting presents.
What Is a Town Hall Meeting?
Originally, town residents used town hall meetings as an open forum to discuss political issues, solve problems, and vote on decisions that directly affected them. Today, many organizations have adopted this meeting format to communicate with their people.
A town hall meeting involves a large group of people – for example, everyone in an organization or department, or everyone who works on a particular site. They're usually held in a large space, such as a hall or conference center.
Senior leaders usually conduct these meetings, which can have several different purposes. For instance, you can use them to keep everyone informed about the organization's health, or about its progress toward key business goals; and you can use them to make big announcements and motivate people. These meetings can also be useful if you have to convey bad news: telling everyone at once helps to eliminate rumors and misinformation.
Put simply, town hall meetings are a way for you to communicate with your people directly, and address any questions or issues that they have. If you run them effectively, these meetings can be a valuable way to pass along important information, raise morale, reduce misunderstanding, and get valuable feedback.
Many organizations conduct a town hall meeting regularly – for example annually or quarterly – to communicate the organization's progress. Many also conduct a meeting whenever they have important or exciting news to share.
Preparing a Town Hall Meeting
While town hall meetings can be very useful, badly organized meetings will waste time, and will have a negative effect on your people. Use these strategies to prepare a town hall meeting that is informative, and effective.
1. Decide on Objectives
The first thing you need to do is to decide on the objectives of the meeting.
For instance, do you want to talk about your organization's progress? Do you want to publically thank people and teams for their efforts? Or, do you need to share good or bad news?
When you're thinking about objectives, don't forget about the future. For example, a town hall meeting provides a good chance to explain the organization's strategy and vision for the next few years. It's also a good opportunity to put an end to rumors and gossip.
It's important to make sure that you address people's concerns, and to make sure that you're planning a meeting that people will find useful and engaging. If you've held this type of meeting before, get feedback on how these could have been improved. You could also use employee satisfaction surveys to find out about people's concerns, so that you can address these as part of the meeting.
As well as key leaders in your organization, you may also want to invite people from various departments to talk about their projects, or about their experiences in their roles. This can help to foster a sense of involvement, and give people from within the wider organization a chance to have their say, and to practice their public speaking and presentation skills.
Our article on Running Effective Meetings helps you define a meeting's objectives, so that you can get your message across clearly.
2. Create an Agenda
Next, create an agenda for your town hall meeting, so that everyone knows what to expect and why they need to attend. Prepare a list of the main points you will cover, and identify the people who will be speaking and presenting. This is also a good chance to plan for any visual aids that you'll need.
As part of this, think about how you can add interest to the meeting. For example, instead of giving a speech about an upcoming change, you could set up a mock interview, where a team member guides a senior manager through a pre-prepared question and answer session. You could create a panel discussion and put everyone on the senior leadership team on stage to talk and answer questions. Or, you could split the audience into groups, and ask one person from each group to put their group's questions to a panel.
Remember, town hall meetings need to pass along important information, but they should also be interesting and engaging for everyone who attends.
3. Choose an Appropriate Location
When choosing a location, make sure that it can handle the number of expected attendees. If your organization is large, or if it needs to maintain a continuous service, consider holding several back-to-back meetings to accommodate everyone on the same day, or book conference facilities at a local hotel or university. Wherever you choose, make sure that everyone will be able to hear clearly, and ensure that the location is convenient for as many of your people as possible.
Also, decide whether you need to provide food or drink, or whether you need to use a stage or large screen, so that everyone can see and hear properly.
If you have satellite offices or team members who work virtually, consider broadcasting the meeting over the internet, and allow people to ask questions by email or phone. You might also want to film the event, so that absent team members can view it later.
Use our Presentation Planning Checklist to plan your setup and presentation.
4. Brief People Effectively
Before you conduct a town hall meeting, brief your people on what the meeting is about and why their attendance is important. (This is especially important if you've never held one before.)
You'll also want to announce the date and time of the meeting well in advance, so that people are properly prepared to take time away from their day-to-day roles. Try to pick a date when people are unlikely to be busy, or taking vacations.
Not everyone will be happy about devoting time to a town hall meeting, especially if they're busy. Define the meeting's objective clearly, and explain why people will benefit from being there.
Nearer the time, give people a copy of the meeting's agenda, so that they know what to expect.
During and After the Meeting
When it comes to the meeting, follow these strategies to make sure that it runs smoothly.
1. Speak Simply and Directly
It can be tempting to create an elaborate slide presentation to communicate information. However, this is a common mistake, and it may disconnect you from your audience.
Instead, encourage all speakers to keep things simple. Remember, your goal is to talk to your people and to connect with them. Don't read information directly from slides. Instead, use any slides to reinforce what you're saying.
Stay informal, and talk directly with your people. Make sure that you let your audience know what's in it for them: that is, why they need to listen.
Also, make sure that you're talking on their level; remember, not everyone in the audience will have an advanced degree or in-depth industry knowledge. If possible, avoid jargon and technical terms.
If you want to develop your presentation skills, take our How Good Are Your Presentation Skills? self-test to see where you can improve.
2. Handle Conflict Calmly
Your town hall meeting should encourage open communication from everyone in the room. This means that there's a good chance that someone will step up with a complaint or a contentious issue.
If people have the courage and desire to speak up, then this means they're open and willing to communicate with you to get it resolved. It can be an opportunity, not a threat, when people speak up like this.
Learn how to think on your feet, so that you remain calm and composed when under pressure. Brush up on your conflict resolution skills, and think about how to handle conflict in meetings, so you know the best way to communicate with the other person and address the issue fairly and openly.
You may also want to practice dealing with this type of scenario using role play.
3. Be Honest
Sometimes you'll use a town hall meeting to talk about tough issues that the organization is facing or to deliver bad news. Be honest with everyone; anything less will only start rumors and reduce morale.
How you convey challenging news is critical. Don't sugarcoat the information, and watch your body language.
Once you've conveyed the toughest news, focus on something positive. Be sincere, show the faith you have in your people and their talents, and discuss what all of you can and will do to overcome this challenge. Give your team members hope and a mission that they can rally around.
4. Provide Feedback Options
Sometimes people regard town hall meetings with skepticism. They might not feel comfortable voicing a complaint, or asking a challenging question, because they're afraid that there will be consequences if they speak up.
So, make sure that you provide several feedback channels. For instance, you could set up a box where people can submit questions anonymously during a break. You can then address some of these concerns during the meeting. Alternatively, you can encourage people to use email, Instant Messaging or Twitter to ask questions while people are presenting.
5. Take Notes
Appoint someone to take notes on all the issues you discuss, the questions that people raise, and any actions that you or other people need to take.
Then, after the meeting, make sure that everyone in the organization gets a copy. Not only will this reinforce what you discussed, but it will also show that you and the leadership team are accountable for the promises that you make to your people.
6. Follow up on Suggestions
Your people will want to know that you and the rest of the leadership team listened to the concerns and suggestions that they raised during the town hall meeting, and that you're taking them seriously. You'll damage the trust they have in you if you fail to follow up.
So, make sure that you stay in contact with your people after the meeting and provide regular updates on what you're doing to resolve issues. You can post updates on your organization's blog or intranet, send out a regular email, or touch base personally.
Also, get further feedback on how the meeting went, so that you can make improvements next time round.
Company town hall meetings are companywide meetings, which are usually conducted by senior leaders to communicate important information.
To organize an effective town hall meeting, decide on its objectives, create an agenda, and choose an appropriate location. Also, brief people on what to expect.
Speak simply and directly during the meeting, keeping slide use to a minimum. Also, handle conflict effectively, be honest, and let people give feedback in a variety of ways.
Finally, make sure that someone takes notes, and then follow up and take action on issues raised in the meeting.