Nowadays, it’s pretty much imperative that corporate leaders host regular “state of the union” town hall meetings with their employees. Typically, these meetings feature the CEO and/or other executive leader in front of a large room at a podium with a microphone. They go through slides, give updates, and take questions. That’s the way these events are and have been conducted, and its regimented format tends to suit your average executive leader.
But from the perspective of an attendee, this style is about as corporate and coldly formal as it gets. As with any form of communication, they want to be engaged, not spoken down to. The problem is that executives tend to resist paradigm shifts, and that holds true for the format of their town halls. So how do you change this traditional style make it less formal and, let’s face it, boring?
Talk Show Format
One way to divert from the norm is to let the CEO and other executive speakers be the focus, but not the drivers, of the town hall event. Channel your inner TV producer. Find a “host” (think Oprah or Ryan Seacrest) who will warm up the crowd, and bring on the speakers to engage in a conversation about the organization. It’s not great, but the basic format I mean is demonstrated in this example I found from C-Span (skip to about the 10-minute mark).
In a traditional town hall meeting, the execs are standing and the audience is sitting – often for over an hour in uncomfortable chairs. It’s a very power-position, hierarchical situation when you think about it. Having a host/interviewer makes employees feel as if the person in charge of the event is more on their level. He/she is a liaison between them and the executives. Just be sure to find someone who’s outgoing, fun, and engaging to facilitate the interview.
By this I don’t mean a Powerpoint slideshow. Think of playing an inspirational video during your town hall events – content that focuses on an employee or employees who have great success stories to tell. After viewing slides of sales figures and new corporate initiatives, employees would appreciate a video that highlights a coworker who is celebrating 25 years at the company, or volunteers in her community, or participates in events that raise money for autism awareness.
Mix it up so that the meeting is not just about sales figures and initiatives. A human interest story that diverts from the corporate content that dominates the meeting will be appreciated by the audience and make them more engaged.
Most town hall meetings incorporate a Q&A session, but this can be a problem for employees in satellite locations who don’t have the ability to ask questions. Maybe you’re lucky to work for an organization with high-tech interactive videostream technology through which employees can ask live questions remotely. However, many organizations aren’t equipped for this kind of interaction, and the risk of making off-site workers feel disassociated from the meeting can be problematic.
Here’s an easy way to make sure their voices are heard: Solicit question in advance. Let the employees in satellite locations know that they can record a question with the video camera on their phones and email the video to your department. Then play them at the town halls so the audience can know what’s on the mind of employees located outside of headquarters. If you’re streaming to your other locations, the audiences there will appreciate hearing their questions read in real time.
Now I’m sure you internal communicators out there have been involved in a town hall meeting for your execs. Have you done anything to mix things up and provide a less-stuffy environment for your employees? Share some of your perspectives in the Comment section below!
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