A client called to get advice about an upcoming town hall meeting, which her CEO hosts quarterly to share information with all employees. She told a familiar story about the strengths and weaknesses of her company's town halls:

Pluses: Leader visibility, lots of rich content, most employees attend

Minuses: Limited employee interaction (very few questions asked), too much content, same format every time, low energy level

The client wanted my ideas for "easy ways to improve" the town hall experience.

"Before I make suggestions," I replied, "I'd like to ask one question."


"What are your objectives for the employee town hall?"

The client paused. "Objectives? What do you mean?"

I took a deep breath. The client is a smart, experienced internal communicator, so I knew I didn't have to explain what objectives are or how they work. No, the problem is that, at the client's company as at most organizations, the only objective applied to a town hall is that the meeting is held.

In other words, success is too often defined by checking the box (the town hall happened), not whether the session accomplished outcomes like these:

  • Did employees learn something?
  • Do they feel more motivated after the town hall?
  • Are they prepared to take action?

If you don't articulate outcomes, it's difficult to design the session to achieve those objectives. And it's why so many town halls become a collection of information rather than a focused experience designed to create knowledge, build motivation and persuade employees to do something.

So, before your start making small improvements, the one thing you should do to dramatically improve town halls is a big, hairy, audacious change: set tangible, specific objectives. And then get buy-in from key stakeholders that you will help them design the town hall to achieve those objectives.

That means that all the other stuff that clutters up a town hall has to go: Multiple speakers. A dizzying number of topics. Too much time spent presenting. Too little time spent engaging employees in dialogue.

This isn't easy, but it has the potential to make all the difference--from a "meh" town hall to a memorable one.

Published on: Sep 14, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.