From leaders who attempt to wing it to CEOs who sidestep tough questions, we identify five critical mistakes that can undermine your company town hall meetings.
Corporate town hall meetings are an inspiring way to get your team on the same page, to communicate important news and priorities, and to find out what’s on the minds of the people closest to your customers.
At Worktank, we lead hundreds of these events each year, producing and broadcasting town hall meetings for some of the biggest brands in the world. We’ve coached, and helped some amazing leaders and communicators deliver big news and hard truths. However, outside of our client work, we’ve also seen some pretty epic fails that could’ve been prevented.
5 Critical Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Whether you’re hosting an in-person event, or producing a completely virtual corporate town hall, here are a handful of common, yet critical mistakes that can undermine your ability to connect and inspire.
Not Having a Clear & Relevant Objective
Often, senior leaders create the meeting agenda based on the topics they want to discuss, not on what is relevant or engaging to the team. Worse yet are leaders who are completely out of touch with their teams. For example, sharing photos of a family trip to Europe when the team has been putting in overtime for three months on a big project, foregoing vacations and missing out on their kids’ school events.
Considering how employees feel, or what they may have questions about, is a key component to having a productive and engaging town hall meeting. Including a few slides on the state of the business is important, but work to simplify the message and focus on the “so what?”
One way to define the purpose of the town hall meeting is by discussing the desired outcome. What do you want your team to do? How do you want them to feel? What’s the change you want to occur, or the epiphany you want them to have? Then, use surveys or individual team discussions to gauge interest in topics. Put together what you think your purpose is and go out and validate it.
Not Being Prepared
A leader risks isolating themselves and their team by winging it during a town hall meeting. Worktank producers cannot emphasize enough how important preparation and rehearsal are to conveying confidence and delivering an impactful message. In fact, we talk about it a lot in How The Best Presenters Win Their Audience.
We understand that many leaders think using notes and rehearsing can come off as disingenuous or insincere, but it’s a misconception. To show up real and truly connect actually takes a lot of practice, and the CEOs who pull this off aren’t winging it at all. They typically have more training and communication experience. Even if they don’t know the exact words they’re going to use, they know which stories they may want to share and why, and they know exactly what they want their audience to think, feel, and do as a result of their message.
Until you reach that point, you need to properly prepare and practice what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it – days before you walk onto a physical or virtual stage. Know your presentation inside-out, record yourself several times, and the confidence and sincerity will follow.
Failing to Use an Interactive Format
We’ve seen some of the best content fail, simply because it was delivered poorly. Both in-person and virtual town hall meetings should be interactive and immersive. We recommend using a combination of slides, visual storytelling, video, and motion graphics to hold your team’s attention.
Technology also makes it easy to add interactive elements. We provide our clients with scaled audience engagement tools, such as real-time polling, to gather participants’ responses anonymously, and then share the results on screen in real time. In addition to being a great way to collect information, the poll often sparks conversation.
It’s also important to remember that town halls can, and should, have multiple presenters to keep the audience engaged. Consider livestreaming guest contributors from other locations to talk about anything from team successes to lessons learned.
Ignoring the Elephant in the Room
We’ve watched leaders lose credibility by avoiding what needs to be said, eluding tough topics, and sidestepping uncomfortable questions. Most people don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately, we all have to do it at some point.
Don’t sugarcoat or hide the hard truth behind spin, jargon, and evasive double-speak. And always take the toughest question first. It’s a gutsy move and energizes Q&A with a potent start.
Whether it’s announcing cutbacks or initiating big change, consider the consequences for your team, have a plan, be compassionate, and speak the truth.
Skipping or Staging the Q&A
It’s hard to imagine an in-person or virtual town hall meeting without a Q&A period, but we’ve seen it happen. When you don’t engage with your team you risk looking insecure or arrogant.
By allowing team members to submit questions – both live and in advance – you ensure the town hall meeting is inclusive and participative. Adding an option for anonymity also allows your team to ask difficult questions without fear of reprisal.
Communication should be a two-way street, but don’t fall prey to the staged Q&A. Insincere interaction is almost as bad as no interaction at all. While the questions themselves should not be rehearsed, we recommend considering the questions you’ll likely be asked, and thinking about your answers so you’re not caught off guard. If there are no inquiries from the team, you can always use these premeditated questions as a springboard for conversation, which is more authentic than planting the questions in the audience.
Do You Need Help with Your Company Town Hall Meetings?
If you can avoid these five mistakes, you’re well on your way to leading town hall meetings that inspire people to achieve results and build more connected teams. Of course, even the best, most high-profile leaders and presenters often need a little help from the professionals.
If you’re interested in partnering with Worktank to help you produce best-in-show corporate town hall meetings, contact us online or give us a call at 877-975-8265. Our team of content creators and producers are experts at incorporating scaled audience engagement tools, visual storytelling, video, and motion graphics to build dynamic TV-show-quality broadcasts that keep your audience engaged from start to finish.