Sit back, relax and let it happen – a quick guide on how to organize successful town hall meetings.

So when was the last time you attended a town hall meeting hosted by your company executive? And more importantly what did you personally get out of the meeting? And last but not least: how did you feel after the “big” event?

Let’s be honest - most of the time we simply: sit back, relax and let it happen right? And we walk back to our workplace and dive straight into our daily routine…and are rarely reminded of the event, let alone feeling any differently afterwards.

Now, I am not saying it is an easy task – on the contrary, I think it is one of the most difficult meeting formats to actually plan for, because the audience is mostly heterogeneous and it is difficult to actually make this an “all inclusive” event, and even more difficult it is to have a dialogue. Inolvement and engagement are the ultimate goals which we try to achieve in employee communication - but sometimes we fail.

 

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So how do you successfully plan for these kind of events?

First tip: never go into tactical implementation mode BEFORE you are not clear about what you and more importantly your audience want to get out of the meeting. You might say this is the natural first step before you plan any event. Unfortunately, in practice, there aren’t many employee meetings where the hosts and organizers have a clear goal of what the desired outcome should be. BUT - let me tell you it is KEY for success.

Get the meeting title right!

Now, I strongly believe that a bigger meeting like a town hall should firstly not be called “team talk” or “employee dialogue session” if you are going to place a top down message and there is absolutely no room for debating the information that is being shared, nor the decision that is being communicated. I would even argue that if you call it a “dialogue session”, which above 30 attendees is anyway an illusion and people can’t contribute except for asking “standard” and “political correct questions”, you will leave your audience disappointed and it will damage your reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of roadshows or bigger get togethers of employees, when it makes sense of course. Such events could be; introducing a new senior leader, sharing company vision, strategy updates or to announce bigger changes. In any case we should call the meeting the right title and hence manage expectations in advance.

Let it happen…!

Also key to any large employee meeting is: focus on creating an after event environment to enable people to mingle and talk and give them an opportunity to “digest” the news amongst each other in a “true and natural” dialogue setting. For example you could hold the meeting around 4pm and organize for refreshments and chose a location that is not that formal to allow for conversations.

Senior leaders here is a tip for you: take the time to mingle too – that is where you can listen and get a genuine and personal dialogue going. After all - sit back, relax and let it happen.

Comments and feedback are always welcome! Let me know about your town hall experiences by commenting on the blog. 

Rupal Purohit Ulrich is Managing Director of RPU Communication Concepts, an Independent Employee Communication Consulting company. Together with Christine Köchli, she is the co-author of communicate smart.