You sweat and you struggle to organize your leader’s town hall meetings. And employees in attendance can see how hard you’re working to make sure the slides run, the A/V works and the Q&A doesn’t fizzle out.

So if you ask a colleague afterwards how the town hall went, he’s likely to say, “Fine! Interesting content . . .” then change the subject. And even a survey doesn’t give you the real story. After all, employees appreciate the effort, so their answers will skew positively.

But get those same employees in a focus group with a neutral moderator (like me) and ask them what they really think of town halls, and they’re likely to stop being polite and tell the unvarnished truth. Here’s what they’d say they absolutely hate about town halls:

10. Technical /logistical difficulties. “We were at a remote location, and we couldn’t hear everything.” “People at the back of the cafeteria couldn’t see the speakers.” “With the money they spend on these meetings, you’d think they’d figure out how to fix the A/V work.”

9. Bad PPT. “I can’t even read all that detail.” “With the money they spend on these meetings, you’d think they could do better than those ugly, dense slides.”

8. Poor time management. “One speaker takes more time than he’s supposed to, then the others have to rush through their slides.” “The meeting’s supposed to be an hour, but it always runs long.” “When I don’t get back to my station on time, my supervisor gets cranky.”

7. Boring! “So many facts and figures!” “With all those charts, time moves soooo slowly.” “I stopped going to the actual meetings and started attending remotely so at least I can multi-task.”

6. Over our heads. “To be honest, I quite frankly don’t understand a lot of the stuff the CEO is saying.” “It’s all MBA-level content, as if the boss is presenting to the board, not employees.”

5. Same stuff, different day. “One town hall meeting is pretty much the same as another.” “The format doesn’t change from quarter to quarter, and the content’s not very different either.” “I feel like I heard it all before.”

4. Meaningless content. “I guess what’s covered is important for the company, but I don’t know what it means to me.” “Am I supposed to do anything differently? It’s not clear.”

3. Fake questions. “They ask for questions ahead of time, but when the facilitator read the questions, they seem very packaged—not what it really on people’s minds.” “People raise their hands to ask questions, but it seems like that was all prearranged.”

2. Not participative. “The town hall seems very one-way: They talk and we have to listen.” “The CEO says he wants questions, but the presentation always runs long and we end up with only a few minutes for Q&A.” “It doesn’t feel like it’s really safe to speak.”

1. Uninspiring. “The focus is on bad news, so town halls are a downer.” “It’s like listening to a lecture. Am I motivated? No.” “What do I feel when I leave the town hall? Mostly relief that it’s over.”

Ouch! Although the truth hurts, it doesn’t have to be this way: You have the power to improve your town halls. 


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