Town hall meetings have served as a means of public communication between groups since the early colonial era in New England. Traditionally, these town halls were a public meeting or event conducted to open dialogue between town officials and citizens.
In the modern workplace, corporate town halls parallel that tradition, opening up the lines of communication between executives and employees. Usually these meetings are an opportunity for executives to share business results, important company initiatives, and personnel changes. Because town halls allow for dialogue between groups that might not normally engage in two-sided communication, it’s imperative that they’re done right.
The larger the audience, the more complex a town hall will be in facilitating employee communications and engagement. In many ways, planning a large town hall is much like orchestrating a symphony. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Do: Plan ahead
When planning a corporate town hall, you’ll be dealing with two audiences and their schedules. Your first step should be to coordinate with the executives who will be speaking or presenting. Consider giving your speakers options on a Wednesday or Thursday, as your second audience, the employees, are more likely to be available in the middle of the week.
If you need to plan your town hall at an offsite location, wait until you have a firm commitment from your speakers to book an event space and start planning the additional parts of the meeting. Your ideal venue should include catering, production, and technology under one roof, and be prepared to offer back a robust proposal that gives you a clear timeline and next steps that work towards your town hall date. Your venue should also an active town hall planning partner, so be sure to leverage their expertise and production know-how as much as possible.
2. Don’t: Go at it alone
If your town hall is more than 30 people, you’ll need to recruit a small army to help you with both planning and execution. Leveraging these folks allows you to delegate key tasks, from editing slides to equipment testing to something as simple as spotting questions from the audience. Having these additional sets of eyes and arms are often overlooked in the planning process but critical to making sure both the audience and speakers leave satisfied.
Communications software giant PGi, is no stranger to putting on these types of events. PGi Communications Specialist and town-hall expert Lauren Peterson says, “Depending on the size of the event, having extra hands is always a good idea. No matter how organized you are, unexpected issues will arise, so having a team there from day one is critical.”
3. Do: Provide food
PGi’s Executive Communications Director Joshua Erwin also assists in the town hall process for the company. “Always provide food at these type events, no matter how large or small,” he says. “The key is to keep it light; anything too heavy will put your audience to sleep.”
Choose finger foods that are fresh, small portioned, easy to eat, and designed for several dietary preferences such as Gluten-Free, Vegetarian, Vegan. And be sure to allow ample time before or after the event for audience members to eat; it will improve audience engagement and also cut down on distraction or grumbling stomachs later.
Make sure you provide a way for any employees to join your event, regardless of their location.
4. Don’t: Forget about those who can’t attend in-person
Whether your company has international offices or remote workers, you need to consider a better way to leverage the latest technologies to make your event available to these groups. “Webcasting is an increasingly popular medium for virtual town halls,” says Erwin, “and there are a lot of options depending on the size of your team, how critical your event is and your budget.”
Additional tools that can be used to better engage your virtual guests include video walls, digital ice breakers, and live polls.
5. Do: Send a recap of the event to all attendees
Utilizing your HR or Corporate Communications team to send an internal email or a recording of the event is a core follow up activity to ensure that everyone, including those who didn’t attend, has received a summary of the key messages that were conveyed in the town hall. This often means a copy of the executive presentation as well as the summary of the Q&A session. Best-practice organizations go one step further and have their middle managers conduct breakout sessions and breakout Q&As with their teams to reinforce the messages conveyed during the town hall.
It’s not just a town hall, it’s also an opportunity to surprise and delight
Corporate town halls are critical to maintaining transparency within an organization, but are also an opportunity to leverage the 2+ hours of undivided attention as an employee channel to build meaningful and positive experiences. Pulling one off that employees will rave about simply involves preparing ahead of time, organizing a team to help you orchestrate a social symphony, and leveraging the latest technologies to engage remote attendees.