Best practices for town-hall meetings
3 tips for effective employee town halls
Town halls are an effective way for leaders to communicate with employees. If done well, employees can walk away informed and engaged, with greater trust and confidence in leadership.
Here are a few tips to consider for your next town hall:
Remember the audience
First and foremost, make sure you have clear, outcome-focused objectives for the town hall. Leadership needs to address what it wants employees to walk away with, and what the desired action is from employees.
I’ve seen leaders miss the mark with endless PowerPoint slides that never connect and provide clear action for employees. Instead, the slide content tends to be on a series of topics with no real story or strong articulation of employee impact. While employees want to understand the state of the company, they also need to know what’s in it for them. For example, what does the company’s financial health mean to employees? Could it mean better benefits? Or what does a company winning a new mega-project mean for employees? Could it mean exciting new career opportunities for them?
Harness the power of storytelling and boil content down to three or four key messages to inspire employees to act. Use the leader’s natural communication skills — humor, data, or personal anecdotes — to lift and deliver the content.
Be more interactive
Rely less on PowerPoint slides and more on employee participation to help create a sense of community and access to leadership. Always allow plenty of time for questions and discussion. In fact, connect with employees using cost-effective tools such as Slido, a Q&A and polling platform. With Slido, employees submit questions and vote on the most pressing issues that leaders should address using their smartphones. The app allows employees who might feel uncomfortable asking questions in a public forum to do so privately, thereby creating a more inclusive environment.
Please don’t wing a town hall no matter how experienced the leader is at speaking. Always rehearse the content, as well as the likely employee questions so that the leader is prepared and feels comfortable. Instead of calling for questions, coach leaders to pose questions to the audience, i.e., what keeps you up at night, or what is the most pressing obstacle? Also, coach leaders to respond to all questions, especially the difficult ones or those without clear answers. It is OK for leaders not to know the answer. Just say that you need more time to review and then send to the employees a follow-up email of responses to unanswered questions.
Also, thoroughly test the audio, video, and live-streaming equipment to ensure a smooth delivery. Technical difficulties during a town hall are a buzzkill, distracting the leader and employees from the town hall’s true purpose.
Overall, town halls are great tools for communicating with employees and should be one of many ways in which leadership connects to employees.
Melanie Taplett is a Houston-based communications and public relations consultant serving energy, petrochemical, EPC, professional services and health care companies.