Town Hall events, also popularly known as all-hands meetings, are a highly effective medium for organisational communication and engagement designed to share important enterprise updates, announce strategy decisions, major accomplishments, and the trajectory of the company goals. Town Halls serve a great function of institutionalising practices of employee engagement, creating alignment, building trust and fostering organisation-wide healthy and productive interaction.
As most organisations are still operating with remote working and WFH situations, face-to-face interaction in a regular company-wide meeting has become impossible. An outcome of the COVID-19 situation has been that the importance of inclusive, in-person town hall meetings has become even clearer. This has led to the advent of online/virtual town hall meetings which have been helping organisations and employees remain engaged with each other, even as they continue adhering to social distancing requirements.
How to enable remote collaboration for town hall events
There are a wide variety of video conference platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex and others that are enabling remote collaboration for town hall events. The challenge, however, lies in extending the feeling and togetherness of a community meeting to all remote attendees in a virtual town hall.
In this blog, we aim to put together an insightful guide on how to effectively conduct remote town halls. We look carefully at the best ways to leverage technology, creativity and innovation, and support fruitful interactions, while injecting authenticity and a sense of tactile presence to virtual town halls. We’ve put together a bunch of tips and ideas to help you avoid common pitfalls.
1. Set a convenient time for everyone, based on time zones
Given the importance of the Town Hall to the organisation, it’s best scheduled in a way that is convenient for everyone. It is crucial to plan your virtual town hall event factoring in the multiple time zones and ensuring the comfort and convenience of your employees. It increases the likelihood that everyone can participate and also ensures that everyone feels valued.
Also, if your company operates in multiple countries, be mindful of recording each company town hall meeting’s time and practice rotation as there is likely to be some attendee unhappy about the meeting time. So, if employees in India get to attend a meeting in a groggy state early in the morning this month, the next month’s town hall can factor in their convenience first and provide them with a breather.
2. If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail
Virtual town hall meetings invariably involve a gamut of diverse participants with different goals, skill-set, interests and level of expertise. Firstly, it is important to have a clear agenda and roles for the meeting to ensure things stay on track and to avoid diversion from the designated objectives. It is crucial to educate the participants on the use of the technology and platform before the virtual meeting starts. A little help with familiarisation and communication of Town Hall etiquette also makes up for variations in the comfort with technology amongst diverse participants.
Some useful methods could be:
- A quick, screen sharing tutorial
- A YouTube training video link
- A point of contact for technical assistance during the meeting
- Calling a couple of participants before the start of the town hall to check video and audio quality, and adopting the best audio conferencing solutions
- A dial-in option for those grappling with access issues to video/connectivity
Remember, the fastest way to derail a virtual town hall meeting is the inability of the attendees to perform necessary functions for an efficient meeting, using the virtual meeting platform. Be mindful of ease-of-use and implement a video meeting solution that’s agile, reliable and seamless to join.
3. Create a more dynamic environment for key speakers
Most video meetings and webinars feature speakers who are communicating from a very basic (and static) laptop desk environment. While this is sufficient to “get the job done”, most senior executives could do with more freedom of movement as they seek to create engagement with their teams.
A larger stage-type area covered with multiple camera angles and allowing speakers to move around freely and spontaneously as the cameras and mics track them can create a more natural and dynamic experience during Town Hall meetings. While these live stage spaces are typically present in Town-Hall-cum-cafeteria environments, it’s quite possible to recreate this setup in a CXOs home too (for example). It allows them greater freedom to express themselves and more dynamic visual experiences for colleagues participating in the town hall.
4. Incorporating a chat function
While most of the participants would be sharing points and responses verbally, it would be an effective practice to use Google slides and chat to offer access to participants a chat function while creating a safe space for the online town hall.
Chat, along with polls and Q&As can also be used as a less disruptive way to create useful interactivity, They help ensure that employee queries are addressed and that people have the freedom to raise issues they may consider important for the organisation
A dedicated set of facilitators can monitor chats, look out for inappropriate content that needs moderation/ejection. It can be an effective way of setting expectations for the timeline of the meeting, directing participants towards a healthy interaction and assisting those who are not comfortable speaking in front of everyone.
5. A quick tech-check
The audio system (microphone/speakers) and video system (camera) should be checked and double-checked before the town hall event starts. A backup internet connection helps ensure a loss of connectivity does not derail the session.
6. Record and share
It is an uphill task to notch the perfect meeting slot when every employee is available, and happily so. With most remote offices and employees spread across different locations and multiple time zones, there is a high likelihood of some of the employees unable to attend the live town hall event. Recording the meeting and sharing a link post-event, whether it is internally or for public viewing, can be helpful in making the employee feel inclusive and clued-up.
On the surface, it may seem that adding interactivity is a productive element to learning sessions, with few downsides to it. In reality, however, while there are several benefits of interactivity in learning, there are several challenges to incorporating it.
First, and most obvious, it requires much more ability on the part of the instructor or faculty, who need to be able to moderate the sessions, oversee activities, encourage participation and manage session flow while delivering their core session content. This means they need to have a strong presence of mind (that comes with solid preparation) to carefully steer the flow of sessions and the level of interactivity better throughout the course of the session.
7. Implement mandatory registration beforehand
It is important to manage attendees effectively and safeguard your Town Hall, the web platforms from being compromised, and unauthorised access or participation troll invasion while the event is live-streaming.
One of the effective ways to manage the participants closely is to mandate the registration in advance. Also, you can adopt a practical number like 50, 100, or 200 attendees at which you can cap the participants of the remote meeting.
Significance of interactivity in town hall events
Here are some of the pros and cons when interactivity is made into an important element of town hall events.
|Boosts engagement of participants as the discussion becomes more interactive||Including interactions with participants can add to the session duration|
|New ideas can emerge through the interactions||The continuity of the session becomes dependent not just on the presenter’s network and connectivity, but also on the participants’ connectivity|
|A wider range of knowledge may be shared, as participants queries tend to help address doubts and add important details||Presenters need to be much more prepared and adept managing the interactivity and the flow of the event|
|Experiences being shared by participants can add to the colour and depth of the interaction||Unexpected questions or disruptions can break the presenter’s rhythm and interrupt the event’s timeline|
|Makes the session more memorable for the participants and leads to greater satisfaction and a sense of inclusiveness||The interactions can go off track, leading to less time left for other topics at the event|
The strict no-nos
Also, there are few practices that you should avoid to keep things simple and flowing smoothly.
||While you may want to pack in a lot of information in a town hall event, getting swayed with overly complicated topics and too many slides that are illegible, is a total waste of time, and leaves the attendees unable to grasp a word anyone is saying.|
||Don’t be afraid of showing the chinks in your armour, as ignoring opportunities for improvement, would strip you of your ability to motivate employees to work towards their goals. Address your flaws and allow people to voice issues they are facing, as this will create a conducive learning environment while also humanizing the company.|
||Inject spontaneity, diversity and enthusiasm in your virtual town hall events by having a variety of speakers. This will help the company represent multiple facets of the business. Also, keep the interaction two-fold and avoid monotony by incorporating Q-A sessions between employees and the speakers.|
||To encourage more people to attend the virtual town hall event in future, it is important to create a space for the participants for follow-up and follow-through. Remember, a town hall event is a two-way street. Questions like what went well and what could have been better is a good place to start.|
A final word on conducting effective town hall events
The conventional (in-person) Town Hall is on hold for now, with most organisations voting to work-from-home to avoid the dangers of crowding at work. So virtual town hall meetings need to fill the gap by bringing together the whole organisation “under one roof”.
But these virtual Town Halls need to be much more than just a medium for sharing company-wide announcements and strategies. Your all-hands meetings can be the bedrock for building and sustaining your company’s unique culture and fostering workplace bonding under what are unusually difficult and unfamiliar circumstances. They can help uplift your employees’ morale, keep them focused on the company’s mission and goals, and create an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments with enthusiasm.
With the right technology, tools and tips in your arsenal you’ll be able to transform your next virtual town hall meeting into a compelling and informative event where everyone is engaged from start to finish.