Yesterday I had a conversation with a guy who leads communication at a large organization. "When it comes to our employee town halls, we have nowhere to go but up," he said. "Our sessions are so terrible that anything we do to improve them will make a big difference."

Maybe the town halls your leaders hold with employees aren't quite that bad, but, based on my experience, most of these forums have become dowdy and shopworn. "We've been doing town halls the same way for so long," another communicator told me, "that it seems like they're set in stone."

Does your town hall need a makeover? Here are 7 ways to tell:

  1. Same old same old. If every town hall is the same as every other session, it's time for a refresh.
  2. Nothing new under the sun. Has all the information leaders present already been shared--in quarterly earnings releases or other channels? That's another warning sign.
  3. A sure cure for insomnia. Information isn't new. Some leaders are terrible presenters. The slides are too dense. The agenda is too packed. Nothing interesting happens. Is it any wonder employees struggle to stay awake?
  4. Too many suits. "Our leaders sure love the spotlight," an HR SVP confessed to me. "They think employees are thrilled to hear them hold forth. But the feedback I hear is different--employees would actually like to hear from other 'regular' people, not just the suits."
  5. All talk and no action. Leaders say they want to hear from employees, but then they pack in 50 minutes of presentation into a one-hour meeting. You know what happens next: no time for questions.
  6. Only the strong survive. Let's say enough time is devoted to questions. The problem then is often that the format is completely intimidating. The CEO asks, "Any questions?" and everyone gets very quiet. Who is brave (or stupid) enough to stand up in front of all those executives and ask something even slightly provocative? Smart people stay firmly seated.
  7. The needle doesn't move. If at the end of a town hall, the only emotion people feel is relief, you've got a problem. The best town halls create energy. Employees are inspired. They feel better about the company, its leaders and the way forward.

If your town hall needs a makeover, where should you start? By recognizing that any change will make a difference. Town halls are events, not information dumps. So they need to be actively managed to keep them dynamic. 

At one organization, we began with something simple and obvious: We changed the way the room was arranged, replacing rows of chairs with round tables. In another, we changed the agenda from covering eight topics to focusing on three.

You get the idea: Do something (anything) different and your employee town hall will improve. Need more ideas? Here's a free guide to download.

Published on: Mar 23, 2016
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