You work hard to create a great town hall agenda. Then, at the end, your CEO asks, “Any questions?”—and the silence is deafening. Changing that isn’t as hard as you might think. Listen to this mini episode to find out how to get meaningful audience participation in your next town hall. You’ll get helpful tips from Alyssa Zeff and Darlene Hyde to turn those uncomfortable pauses into awesome conversations.

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa:
Hey everyone, Alyssa here with a bonus round. Not all of your conversations get captured completely, because we try and keep our episodes focused and concise. So, we create these bonus rounds, or mini episodes, as an added treat on top of our regularly scheduled program. We'll sprinkle these in on occasion to provide bits of practical knowledge when we know it's a hot topic that you can learn from.

Alyssa:
This mini episode, or bonus round, is about how to develop question and answer sessions that will ease leaders' anxiety of crickets from the audience, and also won't bore employees.

Alyssa:
So, in all of your experience, I'm sure you have a lot of stories about working with leaders, what's your most memorable, or funniest, or craziest leader moment?

Darlene:
Well, the leader moments are not usually funny.

Alyssa:
They could be.

Darlene:
But, memorable I would say.

Alyssa:
Maybe in hindsight.

Darlene:
Yeah. I guess you could laugh later.

Darlene:
But, memorable I would think. I worked with this one leader who wanted to, as he said, "Breathe life into his Town Halls." People were not showing up, people were leaving early, bored. I sat in on one that was just mind numbing. One of the ways we like to do this, and we're big supporters here at Davis & Company of getting participants to participate. One of the ways we like to do that is sort of flip the Q&A.

Darlene:
We look at the Q&A, it's usually the last thing on the list. Everybody runs over and maybe you have five minutes to ask a question and get an answer. It's just not done in the spirit of a true Q&A. So, he was really worried about giving a lot of time to Q&A because he was concerned people were going to ask something inappropriate, or something he couldn't answer. He wanted to-

Alyssa:
Don't say it.

Darlene:
Plant questions.

Alyssa:
Oh, no.

Darlene:
He wanted to plant questions, yes. Also, because he's afraid of the crickets. You know when he says, “Any questions?” and it's dead silence, and that just creates such an awkward situation.

Alyssa:
Wait, I'm just going to pause for a second because I will say as a former in-house communicator, I was guilty of planting questions. Now years later, looking back on it, I'm like, "Oh my god, I realized why that is such a bad experience."

Darlene:
Oh yeah, the temptation is there because god forbid you get that silence and awkward silence. Dead air. No one wants dead air.

Alyssa:
But we know, by the way for our listeners, that the reason why planted questions are not good is because you can smell a plant a mile away, and it just feels disingenuous to the rest of the audience.

Darlene:
Oh yeah, definitely, and they're very scripted. Then the answers are very scripted. You can call BS on that. What we did is we turned the Q&A into more of a listening activity. We said to him, "What if you asked the audience questions? Give them time to brainstorm. Put two people together and ask them-" in this case I think it was about customer experience, or improving customer service. It was what are your ideas of how we can make improvements in this area?

Darlene:
So, he was able to ask the question, totally scripted, and get candid feedback. He walked away with ideas, perspectives from different people, and also he wasn't put on the hot seat to answer questions on the spot.

Alyssa:
That's great. It's funny because my memorable leader moment happened fairly recently. It's almost the complete opposite. We were hired by a new client to really create an internal communications system, and plan for them. All I kept hearing about was their CEO and how gruff he is, and he's very candid. But, they were sharing this with us in a very negative way. So, we listened to the first Town Hall, and all he did was talk for about five to 10 minutes and then spent 45 minutes taking questions.

Alyssa:
First of all, it was a culture.

Darlene:
A dream.

Alyssa:
Yeah, right? First of all, it was a culture where employees were really comfortable asking questions, but this guy's authenticity, it was gold mine. He was very gruff, and very transparent, but the style totally worked. He was funny, and he made us laugh. As we're building our communication moving forward, we are harnessing that. When you have that level of authenticity, and you have somebody that's that comfortable speaking from the cuff and speaking transparently, use it.

Darlene:
Right.

Alyssa:
Nice.

Alyssa:
Thanks for listening to Employee Buzz, where practical advice meets fun.

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