Don't let employee town halls be a downer


Here’s a key reason your recent employee town hall meeting may not have been successful: It was a downer.

I don’t mean all the content was depressing (I’m hoping it wasn’t!); I mean that the way the session was structured brought employees’ energy level down, rather than pumping it up.

As I’ll explain in tomorrow’s web workshop, the problem is the way town hall agendas are usually set up:

  • Opening: Leader welcomes employees (creating a lift in energy).
  • Expectations: Leader tells what he/she will be talking about (neutral).
  • Body: Leader shares point 1, point 2, point 3, point 4, point 5, etc. (Energy falls to a quiet resting state and stays there.)
  • Q&A: Leader asks if employees have any questions. Silence (which lowers the energy), followed by first a few, then hopefully more questions, which are answered by the leader. (Depending on how many questions and how they’re answered, the energy level can increase or stay the same.)
  • Closing: Leader thanks employees for coming, ends the meeting. (Energy level increases dramatically, because employees rise and leave.)

This type of town hall exists to provide information on a variety of topics (which is, in terms of energy level, a downer) rather than engage employees in a compelling topic. Plus, the way the leader’s content is constructed is flat (as in flat line) rather than built like a story, with a dramatic arc.

A “story arc” is a term that fiction writers, Broadway playwrights and Hollywood screenwriters use to describe the ups and downs of a narrative. For a quick overview about story arcs, read this Daily Writing Tips blog by Ali Hale.

The story arc idea can be applied to any type of session in which the objective is to involve and motivate people, and encourage them to take action. Think about a campaign rally, for instance. If the speech is well-constructed and enthusiastically delivered, participants will cheer and leave determined to help their candidate succeed. If the session is dull and factual, without drama or energy, participants will clap politely and leave without being committed to take action.

A town hall isn’t an information-delivery channel; it’s a key tool in the campaign to win the hearts and minds of employees. So you need to think differently about the way you create your agenda and help the leader develop his/her content. Ask yourself: How can you put this town hall together to raise employees’ energy and leave them feeling more motivated than when they came in?

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