We’re in the midst of Town Hall Season, when leaders invite employees to spend an hour or so reflecting on past performance and preparing for the year ahead.

But here’s the trouble: Too often, town halls are not an uplifting experience. Instead, they’re more of a mess than a treat. There are too many presenters. Too much PowerPoint. An overwhelming amount of content. And terrible time management.

Town halls’ travails have been on my mind for two reasons: First, several of my clients have been talking to me about their town hall challenges. (More on that in a minute.) And, second, I’m preparing for my January 24 web workshop, “Transform town hall meetings from boring to brilliant.”

What’s the biggest challenge with town halls? In a word, focus. Too often, town halls are assembled like a neighborhood potluck dinner. One leader brings content about financial performance, someone else contributes an update on an initiative, and, as the date of the town hall approaches, a variety of other topics are put on the table to include.

The result: Too many starchy side dishes and not enough meaningful meat. Employees leave the town hall thinking that there is a lot going on in the organization, but ask them a week later what was covered and they’ll remember very little. If you survey employees, they’ll report that the town hall was informative. But they probably won’t feel very inspired.

As you might suspect, I have many suggestions for how to transform town halls. The most critical is this: Decide on one key objective (or outcome) for the session. Answer this question: What is the one thing we need employees to know or do after the town hall?

Your internal clients may very well say, “Only one? But we have seven things we need employees to know!” And that’s when you need to counsel, “If we try for seven, employees won’t retain anything. But if we focus on one topic, spending time discussing it, asking employees to ask questions about it, and exploring it in detail, we can be successful.”

Want more tips about town halls? I invite you to join the more than 20 communicators who have signed up for next week’s web workshop. Hope to see you then.

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