This article explains the Town Hall Meeting in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this useful communication skills tool.
What is a Town Hall Meeting?
Town Hall Meetings derive their name from town halls. Town halls exist to serve everyone; from citizens to civil servants. This is also what the Town Hall Meeting is exactly about. It is a meeting intended for everyone in the organisation, in which management reports on policy matters, and employees are given ample opportunity to respond, ask questions and enter into discussions with managers.
Many employees believe managers do not spend enough time explaining organisational policies and the plans and goals that accompany them. They experience this as a lack of transparency. However, this transparency is important to ensure a well-performing company. A Town Hall Meeting can help towards this. Improving transparency will influence the innovation and engagement of employees. Through Town Hall Business Meetings, the opportunity arises for discussion between employees and managers. In other words, it makes leadership more accessible. Such meetings can be offered on a quarterly basis. At the same time, they are also a welcome way to engage in discussion and strive for complete transparency in a less formal setting. A wide range of topics may be discussed; quarterly figures, milestones that have been achieved, new plans, topics that deserve additional attention or imminent competition. These are just a few examples.
Town Hall Meetings may be held internally within the company. For example, in the company canteen. It is also possible to organise these meetings externally by reserving a (large) conference room. Alternatively, there is also the possibility of communicating with various branches simultaneously using video, streaming or other communication systems. Even employees who are in a different time zone can then join in and respond. In addition, a PowerPoint presentation may also be used, clearly showing agenda items and making the structure of the meeting clear.
A good Town Hall Meeting should preferably be led by a moderator; this is a discussion leader who gives a brief introduction, asks questions and gives participants (employees in this case) the opportunity to answer. It is his/her task to involve the public in the discussion and to guide the meeting in the right direction. This can be manager or an externally hired person. It is the task of the moderator to give a short summary of what has been said, so that everyone understands the topic at hand.
The goal of a Town Hall Meeting is more than just the presentation of company information. It is mainly about encouraging dialogue between managers and employees, so that everyone feels connected to the organisation. It gives employees an opportunity to make their voice heard and be part of the company.
To involve every employee, it is recommended to organise a special Q&A session. For example, this can be done by using the so-called Round Robin method; a variant of the classic way of brainstorming. Everyone is given the opportunity to contribute, and all ideas are equally important. Beforehand, each participant is given the opportunity to shine his/ her light on the problem or relevant topic. Everyone writes their proposals and possible questions on a piece of paper. This gives everyone the opportunity to let their thoughts run free, and prevents anyone from being directly influenced by the ideas of others. It gives every employee the full attention of all managers and allows for sufficient time to ask questions and include follow-up questions. The questions are subsequently discussed during the meeting itself.
A Town Hall Meeting can be structured in different ways. The step-by-step plan shown below usually works well. A structured meeting guarantees everyone feels heard and actively involved, with the main purpose being open communication.
Step 1: open the dialogue
By announcing the Town Hall Meeting well in advance, every employee will become aware of it. This is precisely the intention. After all, the meeting is most effective if as many employees as possible participate. The announcement can be made in a variety of ways, including via the Intranet. It is recommended to mention that the presence and feedback of employees is more than welcome in making the meeting a success. In addition, during preparation, employees may already be asked to contribute anonymous questions and/ or feedback about company operations. This anonymity is inviting and ensures no employee will feel hesitant to speak his/her true feelings. In other words, it is the basis for two-way communication.
Step 2: create a survey
By using an (online) survey, employees can express their ideas and opinions about the organisation in a different way. This survey is also completely anonymous. For example, the questions may concern the functioning of the department or organisation, potential improvements, suggestions and other topics related to management. Again, anonymity is important here to obtain honest answers. Employees must be free to provide answers and not be inhibited by the fact that managers will immediately know their name.
Step 3: collection of data
During this phase, all data and questions from steps 1 and 2 are collected and integrated into the meeting agenda. It should be noted that it is essential that all questions and feedback are returned. If not, credibility with employees will be lost. The questions that cannot directly be answered during the Town Hall Business Meeting can be discussed at a different time.
Step 4: action list
After discussing the agenda items, there will undoubtedly be various actions that need to be taken. By placing these in a realistic timeline, management demonstrates its commitment to promises. This will only encourage employees. They’ll be taken seriously by the organisation, as a result of which they will continue to actively contribute. By means of a Town Hall Meeting, an organisation shows that it is committed and is willing to communicate with employees in an open and honest way.
To make the Town Hall Meeting as effective as possible, there are a number of important preconditions to take into account. First of all, there’s the PowerPoint presentation. By keeping the number of slides and amount of text per slide to a minimum, the audience will not get bored and employees will know the exact topic of discussion. Second, it is a good idea to maintain contact with the audience. A manager who relies too much on slides will lose eye contact. Moreover, it is also recommended to alternate heavier topics with lighter ones, so that a balance is created, and employees remain involved.
By having as many managers as possible involved in the Town Hall Meeting, a company can transmit a positive signal to employees. Even though some of them may not be directly involved in the presentation, it allows for opportunity to discuss matters with employees in complete openness. As a result, everyone will contribute to the meeting.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Have you ever heard of a Town Hall Meeting? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors to stimulate employee engagement?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Hanson, C. M. (2003). The promise of democracy’s college: Town hall meeting as teaching method. Community College Journal of Research &Practice, 27(3), 173-190.
- Lukensmeyer, C. J., & Brigham, S. (2002). Taking democracy to scale: Creating a town hall meeting for the twenty‐first century. National Civic Review, 91(4), 351-366.
- Ryfe, D. M. (2001). Presidential communication as cultural form: The town hall meeting. Politics, discourse, and American society: new agendas, 173-92.
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