Back in the good old days—before the pandemic, that is—organizations faced a challenge that is even more acute today: how to bring everyone together for an engaging and motivating experience.

And organizations worked very hard at it. Town hall meetings were a complex mix of employees in the cafeteria at headquarters; a few people gathered in small meeting rooms in satellite offices, others calling in on their phones from the road and several manufacturing employees gathered around a laptop in the breakroom.

The result was less than successful. Employees in the main room didn’t learn anything new. Everyone else felt disconnected—as if they were listening in on someone’s party.

In some ways, we have it easier in this era of more employees working remotely. After all, we have fewer distinct groups to deal with and better familiarity with meeting technologies. But we still have the challenge of making a large group meeting work in a virtual world.

Here are the stories of two companies that reinvented their town halls. Both solutions demonstrate leading practices that will help you deliver an engaging and motivational experience.

Company 1: A support function within a global pharmaceutical company

It was standard practice for this organization to announce its annual plan during a town hall, giving employees the information they needed to create their own goals. But employees provided feedback that the number of town halls across the enterprise increased—making it challenging to attend all of them.

That feedback served as the catalyst to reimagine the annual global meet-up. The communicator in charge started with a question: “What if everyone doesn’t need to be in the room at the same time?”

She replaced the standard web-based meeting with a temporary portal that was live for two weeks and included three key tools:

  • Chats with senior leaders—scheduled online discussions on specific topics
  • Ask-the-expert forums—think virtual lunch-and-learn sessions
  • Content on demand—a combination of video and presentations

What I like most about this approach is that it encourages employees to find the content that is most relevant to them. It also makes communication convenient, where employees can choose the time and place while still having the opportunity to interact with colleagues and leaders.

 Company 2: A professional services organization that consults with government entities 

After several years of rapid growth, pressure on profits and lots of change (including a new business strategy and reorganization), there was a sense of urgency to ramp up internal communication at this company. Indeed, our research revealed that employees wanted to learn more about the new business strategy and craved more interaction with senior leaders.

While we knew a town hall would be an important communication channel, the company had a poor track record with them. You can probably imagine it: a few attendees in a room at the head office and hundreds of not-so-engaged employees on the phone.

So, we set to deliver a new experience where all employees would be on the same playing field—joining a 75-minute Zoom meeting from an office, the road or their homes.

The meeting was set up just like a talk show: quick hits of information with lots of audience participation focused on one topic—the new strategy. A facilitator joined the CEO, and together they asked for employees’ input.

Here are highlights from the agenda:

  • Introduced a new summary of the strategy—a strategy map
  • Used polls to test knowledge of the strategy
  • Heard from employees in the field—their stories about the strategy in action
  • Asked employees to respond to two questions in chat: What’s working well with the new strategy? What needs to be improved?
  • Hosted a rapid-fire Q&A session (There were so many questions that couldn’t be answered during the meeting, but they become great content for future communication.)

The new town hall was the highest attended all-employee meeting—97% of employees joined. And 84% said the meeting was a good use of their time. But, perhaps most importantly, 92% believed the organization was headed in the right direction.

Let’s boil it down

Here are six practices to consider as you re-shape town halls for your organization:

  • Get everyone on the same playing field—using the same technology.
  • Ban talking heads and design an experience that encourages interaction with attendees.
  • Focus on one topic.
  • Provide information that’s new and fresh.
  • Add multiple voices and perspectives—not just the senior leadership team.
  • Consider how you’ll include those who can’t attend, such as customer-facing roles or manufacturing employees: create bites that can be used in their team huddles, a collection of mobile-friendly (short) videos or an app to collect their input.

Originally published on

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