Town Halls or All Hands sessions, if done consistently are powerful internal communication platforms for organizations to connect with employees, share plans, engage in conversations and gauge feedback. Some organizations invest a lot of attention in getting these interactions right and involve advertising and event management agencies to package the sessions, create a ‘wow’ effect and help audiences retain messages.
My personal take is that such sessions need to be managed and run in-house since the internal communicator has a lot more context, better relationships and insight into messages and key internal information. There are broadly three levels of content that employees are interested in knowing – company, office and team. Therefore the content and approach needs to address the company’s plans and strategy, the office updates and team events such as recognitions and performance updates.
Knowing how to conduct such sessions is a science and I can safely say that I am still learning the ropes. However, based on my experiences of conducting such sessions at various Indian and multinational organizations, here are some best practices which I am able to distill and share.
Recently, I was closely involved in championing a series of such sessions that aimed at getting powerful content fused with even more compelling presentations.
It is evident that any such exercise requires leadership maturity and their commitment to time and effort for making an impact. It takes a lot more energy and drive to inspire people to focus on the brand, the organizational goals and how each one can partner to make it successful.
These sessions coordinated to time with public facing and client specific announcements had senior leaders from across locations delivering content real-time to ensure every employee was on board.
I managed and witnessed numerous such sessions in my previous workplaces but nothing compares to the passion and drive to get people rallied together speaking the same language and aligning to the vision.
Here are my top recommendations while planning and executing these sessions. One caveat – Town Halls or leadership-employee interactions are not a one-off exercise and requires the commitment of the leadership to ensure continuity and consistency.
First the basics, then the jazz: Always get the ‘who, which, what, when, how and where’ of communication clarified upfront. It is safer to set up a pre-event call and run a high level plan with senior leaders on the process of rollout. One of the common mistakes I have observed is that internal communication teams invest too much time in ‘creating’ or ‘hyping’ the session as an event rather than focusing on the content and delivery. Finally, what matters is content and how employees perceive it. A ‘town hall’ or an ‘all-hands’ is not ‘show-time’ but an opportunity for dialogue. Remember your employees are sparing their valuable time to come and listen to you – make it matter.
What you say is what you mean: Very often (and unfortunately), I notice the attention paid to developing key messages is probably only about 5% of the overall effort of running town halls. To me, it should ideally take over 75% of your time to get the messages right. Rather than ‘recall’ your messages (the analogy and pun related to Toyota cars!) it makes sense to get them right the first time. Key messages development – here it important to understand cultural nuances so as to suit all geographies, locations and languages. In this specific rollout, effort taken to include India specific content and case studies helped employees relate better. Work out the ‘what’s in it for me’ perspective in every communication.
Plan your Town Hall strategy: Planning is the most critical element of successful Town Halls. From the timing (avoiding sessions around holidays or close to long weekends) to frequency (having one large session or multiple sessions depending on the nature of content) it matters to think through the process of running Town Halls. Just like the way appropriate channels are critical to reach your audiences, similarly it helps to map the right presenter with relevant teams you are targeting. From my experience I have found that employees are able to relate to speakers who directly or indirectly affect their careers, growth and performance. Also people are able to speak more freely in smaller, close knit groups they are familiar with.
Aligning your presenters: Once your content package is ready it is important to select speakers who can deliver the messages and rally employees. While a single round of sessions may only the ‘start’ of any conversation, understanding the personalities of each presenter is useful. Usually, a preparation call or meeting is driven by the internal communication team briefing them on possible questions that employees may ask and suitable talking points.
Packing a punch with your content: Create and make presentation material and videos available for presenters. They need all the ammunition to make an impact. From my experience interspersing video content with slides adds the much needed fillip and also allows for informed conversations.
Timing your communication: Employees need sufficient lead-time to plan their work and be prepared with questions to ask. Therefore ensure the calendar invites are sent at least a week prior to the sessions. Do call out that the Town Hall timings and venues may change while the team continues mapping the speakers’ availability with the venues. If there is a possibility of releasing marketing facing messages ensure you share them first with your employees before it hits the press.
Murphy’s Law and other factors: Conducting Town Halls involves people, technology and communication. While we can control most of these elements, factor in situations where your tools and resources may not function as planned. Have suitable back-ups for presenters, equipment and venues. Invest time to test and verify that the systems work before you engage your audiences. Most often, compatibility issues with projectors, microphones, sound systems and laptops can cause a lot of hiccups unless you test the set-up. On D-Day, have a process for sending out the announcements and reminders, tracking session completion, conducting an exit poll and capturing questions that employees ask.
Take feedback to get better at Town Halls: I am firm believer in taking feedback on the content, presenters and format of the sessions. Also, take feedback almost instantaneously so that your audience can recollect their thoughts easily. Poll presenters to understand what worked well and what needed fixing. This feedback enables internal communications to revisit their plans, restructure content and include positive changes for improved communication.
Share your plans with your stakeholders: Depending on the content shared during your sessions there is a possibility that other stakeholders including new hires, partners, clients, agencies and alumni may need to be informed. Again to be consistent the internal communicator needs to work with relevant stakeholders to have suitable content for presentations, websites, portals and induction programs.
I am interested in other suggestions you may have in conducting successful face-to-face meetings. Do share them here.