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The ultimate guide for hosting great virtual townhalls

Tired of no engagement in your townhalls?

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Remember the good ol’ days of  hosting town hall meetings in-person?

You could limit distractions and (almost) guarantee that everyone was paying attention.

Unfortunately, those days no longer exist. Constantly being on video calls has led to what we would like to call  ‘Zoom fatigue’ – team members just don’t engage with virtual meetings the same way as they used to. Additionally, the (often) long monologues during online town halls do not help.

Yes, these all-hands meetings can be an opportunity for senior leadership and all employees to connect, collaborate, and share updates - it’s the dictionary definition. But at their worst, these company-wide gatherings can be a ‘terrible waste of time’ where it feels more like a one-sided lecture better served as an email.

And we’ve all heard that joke before.

The joke we've all heard before

NEWS FLASH: Virtual town hall meetings are not just about company updates; they’re also the ideal platform for acknowledging  and appreciating  employee achievements. The lack of in-person interaction can make the virtual town hall meetings dull and boring.

Want to avoid a town hall snoozefest, and instead turn the meeting into a diving board (no pun intended) for meaningful ideas and actions?

We’re glad you asked. 

Here are ten tools you can use to make town halls engaging, collaborative and most importantly, unmissable:

1. A public agenda

(that is shared much in advance)

Whether your town hall meetings happen weekly or monthly, they might not have the best reputation. Many people dread meetings and feel that they're a massive waste of time. This couldn't be farther from the truth, but great meetings require their fair share of organisation and planning. That's where town hall meeting agendas come in.

But wait…what can sharing an agenda in advance do for me?

Don't hesitate to put together an agenda for your next town hall meeting because it'll…

Increase efficiency & productivity. Who doesn't love that? Shared agendas will help you reverse the stereotype of meetings being a waste of time. Using a planned agenda will transform your meetings into efficient work sessions that your entire team (actually) looks forward to attending.

Provide a record of the most important takeaways. agendas usually provide space for meeting notes, so you'll have a written record of important takeaways for the entire team to refer back to whenever they want to.

Prevent meetings from running overtime. If you think about it, town hall agendas can be extremely helpful time management tools. They'll help you plan for a realistic amount of topics to be discussed at the meeting and make sure that you stick as close to your schedule as possible.

A tool we’d recommend for sharing/editing agendas: Dive and Docket.

2. Skip the awkwardness with Icebreakers

(and make meetings inclusive)

Since you’re sharing your company’s news and updates, a town hall can feel more like a business meeting, but it’s not! Think of a town hall meeting as an opportunity to establish a more relaxed atmosphere and create transparency through (more) open lines of dialogue between all your employees. You’re more likely to have a productive town hall meeting if it’s more laidback.

It’s important to remember that town hall meetings are always two-way conversations between leaders and employees. Since these meetings typically run long, you will need to find an efficient way to allow participation during the session.  Don’t feel obliged to follow a conventional format.

Icebreakers are great to set the mood for the meeting - particularly town halls where you want employees to feel comfortable sharing and contributing to the meeting. They help you do a quick pulse check around the team before you dive right into the agenda of the meeting. These questions can range from fun (‘What’s your comfort food?’) to challenging (‘Where do you see yourself one year from now?’) to updates about their life (‘What was the highlight of your week?’).

A tool we’d recommend for great icebreakers: Butter and Dive.

3. Get typing in the chat box

(where audience can interact with each other)

An instant-messaging function allows participants to ask questions, make comments and share ideas. Although town hall meetings are meant to provide a platform for open dialogue and transparent discussion, it can be an intimidating concept to speak up before your entire team (Zoom anxiety is real, reader). This is where the chat box saves the day. It lets everyone have a voice (without having to actually use their voice).

Plus, you know how every meeting will always have that one person who hijacks the conversation and doesn’t let anyone else talk?

A chat box prevents that from happening on multiple levels.

4. Brainstorm over a whiteboard

(and draft killer ideas together)

There’s nothing worse than going to a meeting and not being able to understand a word anyone is saying. Whether it’s too much business jargon or eye-straining slides, the thing people miss most about actual meetings is the inability to brainstorm together and collectively come up with solutions.

Say hello to the virtual whiteboard. This blank canvas (of sorts) is a space where participants can collaborate in a brainstorming or problem-solving session. It’s the closest thing that will make a virtual town hall meeting feel like the real ‘‘we’re-actually-doing-this-in-person’ one.

Want to plan a sprint? Jot down ideas together. Quickly draft out your roadmap for the next week? Collaborate on it here. List down marketing ideas at the end of an hour-long team scrum? Use the (virtual)whiteboard at your disposal.

A tool we’d recommend for a great virtual whiteboard: TryEraser and Miro.

5. Use virtual polls for a quick pulse check

(to interact with your audience cohesively)

At the end of the day, town hall meetings are all about your employees. There’s a reason it’s called a town hall, after all. Encourage your entire team’s participation by inviting them to give their opinion using live polls.

This is a great way to involve everyone in your audience in the town hall meeting and really make them feel like their voice is important. Plus, when have polls not be fun?

A tool we’d recommend for great virtual polls: Mentimeter and Slido.

6. A quick inclusive Q/A panel

(where people can ask questions and clear doubts)

Q&A’s make meetings collaborative and inclusive!

By opening up the floor to questions at the end of the meeting, you’re helping the team open up to new perspectives. A quick Q&A also empowers employees with information they generally wouldn't know from their day-to-day schedules. It might trigger the occasional question they might have thought of, but decided against because it sounded trivial (or stupid) in their head.

Also, the entire point of a town hall is to interact with your employees and hear their opinions. There’s no better way to do so than by hosting an immersive Q&A at the end of the meeting.

7. Get constructive feedback

(with the right survey questions)

There is one final way of collecting feedback from town hall meetings – through an employee survey. Once the meeting is over, the host can send out a survey question asking for employee feedback. You could include questions about the length and format of the meeting, or you could ask employees for feedback on actual topics that may have been discussed throughout the meeting.

The survey question is much like the poll, only less introspective, more retrospective. Asking for feedback before the meeting (or even checking in with your employees at the end of the day) can help you shape the meeting better and/or get constructive feedback  for future town halls.

More feedback, more ways to make sure (more) people attend town hall meetings. It’s that simple.

8. Record the sessions

(for people who might have missed the meeting)

Some employees will inevitably miss the live broadcast of the town hall for various reasons. To ensure that they don’t miss out on valuable information, always provide a recording of your town hall for them to watch later. Another good idea? Closed captioning.

Recording your virtual town hall also provides you with great content to repurpose for other communication efforts (think: social media). You can repost snippets of the video on your internal channels to motivate employees or use quotes and excerpts of presentation as promotional material. It’s an infinite goldmine of content.

Here’s the thing. It's inevitable that your virtual audience will miss out on some information during the town hall. Most people have the attention span of a goldfish. Some are just exhausted.  Use the right tool to take down notes for every virtual town hall and send everyone a recap of everything that was discussed. You can even include answers to the questions you were not able to answer during the town hall in the recap.

A tool we’d recommend for recording sessions: Dive, Zoom and Whereby.

9. Add actionable elements

(so everyone actually knows what to do next)

One of the biggest criticisms about meetings in general is how they don't always lead to action. You can help avoid this roadblock by incorporating actionable steps into your meeting agenda. This can be noted underneath each individual agenda item.

...there you go!

Forget about your team complaining about long and aimless meetings. With a little more development, your town halls can be turned into efficient work sessions that your entire team benefits from attending (and also enjoys them)!

10. Recap it with an email

(for a quick TLDR of the meeting)

Sending a follow-up email is also an effective way of cementing the main takeaways from the meeting and keeping it fresh in your employees’ minds. Plus, it helps everyone who might have zoned out during the meeting (happens to the best of us) stay updated on the proceedings.

Don’t drone on in your recap email. List out the key points and tabulate the action items. Thank everyone for attending.

Congratulations, that’s it. You’ve just hosted a successful town hall.

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