Every quarter, employees gather in the cafeteria for town hall meetings. The tables are removed, and seats are placed in neat rows. The podium, microphone, and projector screen are tested and ready.
As employees enter the room and take their seats, the senior vice president who will present the latest company information talks quietly with one of his direct reports. At 9 o’clock he steps up to the podium, says good morning and begins reading the first slide. By the third slide, the employees look bored and ready to leave.
Meetings like this don’t work. Employees prefer hearing company information from leaders who talk with them, not to them, and engage them with authentic conversation and actions.
Polls have shown that most employees are not engaged, even during town hall meetings. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Leaders can turn boring town hall meetings into engaging experiences that score big with employees. As communicators, it’s our job to help leaders do it well so that they increase their credibility and build trust, which helps employees connect with the individual and the organization.
Try these techniques with your leaders to create authentic conversations and make their next town hall meeting a hit with employees.
Greet employees as they enter. This is a time for face-to-face conversation with leaders. Don’t waste the opportunity. The presenter and others should shake hands with employees, thank them for coming, and let them know they are appreciated.
Invite new employees to stand and give them applause. Do this at the start of every town hall meeting. Choose a suitable time frame. Introduce new leaders or people who will interact with many employees. Talk about company growth.
Don’t read slides. Use images and talk about the slide topic in an authentic, conversational way. Give an example, highlight a challenge and how it was met, and put the information in context. Explain what it means for the future. This requires leaders to know the topics and practice their presentation.
Recognize teams and individuals who have had big successes. Explain why their success is important. Use this example to highlight company values and direction. Tie it to the company vision. Ask employees to applaud those being recognized. If your town hall meetings don’t have several celebratory rounds of applause, you are missing great opportunities to engage. Mention social media that highlights successes.
Ask questions. For example, say, “By a show of hands, how many …” Have someone note the results and use that informal polling to help guide future engagement. Don’t be afraid to express surprise at the reaction, and let employees know what you think about the response. That will show you are listening authentically.
Tell an anecdote. Leaders who tell a story about their experience at the company and how it relates to the current situation appear more authentic and help employees understand who they are, which can strengthen relationships and build trust.
Show a movie. Highlight new products, employees who put company values into action, customer testimonials, advertising campaigns, volunteers in the community, or anything that includes employees doing great work. Keep it light and under two minutes.
Give swag to employees who ask questions. It’s not easy to ask the first question. Reward courage by giving the first person to ask a question and others something of value: branded merchandise, gift cards, time-off certificates, etc. Be prepared with seed questions to start the Q/A session if nobody steps up. The presenter can say, “Some of you may be wondering…” or “A question you might want to ask is …” Be creative with questions that encourage discussion about what’s on employees’ minds at the time.
Repeat the question. To make sure everyone heard the question and to confirm the presenter understood it, repeat or summarize the question, then answer it clearly. If appropriate, ask, “Does that answer your question?” This helps everyone know the presenter is listening. It also helps those taking notes for follow-up.
End on a high note.Don’t end flat. The presenting leader should always end by mentioning something positive and encouraging, then thank everyone for the work they do and for making the meeting a success.
Philip Hanyok, COTP, has more than 15 years of corporate communications and marketing experience. He helps leaders and organizations tell their story, promote their brand, and improve engagement. Philip’s expertise is broad and includes internal/employee communications, company intranets, marketing websites, public relations, executive speechwriting, town hall meetings, digital signage, executive messaging, crisis communications, project management, social media, magazines, and newsletters.