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How to run a virtual Town Hall

Are you responsible for running Town Halls in your company? (You may know them as All Hands or All Employee events).

Are you thinking about running them virtually rather than in person? If so, you’re in the right place to find out more.

Following on from my article about using technology to communicate with your people, I’ve got more information for you.

Jargon buster: What is a Town Hall? See my glossary for a whole list. A Town Hall is the name given when all or a large group of employees get together, either in person or virtually. It usually includes presentations from senior leaders and opportunities for employees to ask questions. They’re often recorded and played back to employees who can’t attend.

I caught up with Jo Bland @JoBland3, Head of Strategic Engagement and Internal Communications at NHS Digital. NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner to the health and care system here in the UK.

I wanted to discover how they’re using virtual Town Halls as part of their internal communication. Below Jo has shared what’s working well and her three top tips for other IC practitioners to learn from.

There are a variety of software providers who offer the virtual Town Hall technology and NHS Digital tried a number of them. If you want to know more, do contact Jo as she’s happy to have a chat.

Here’s our interview…

Q) Why have you introduced virtual Town Halls?

With around 3,000 people working in a variety of locations across England, we wanted to find a way to reach, engage and involve the audience, wherever they are.

It needed to be easy to use, accessible and part of our rhythm of internal communications. A key requirement was for us to find a way to connect speakers across locations with people  who are often out and about or at their desks so they hear first hand key updates but also interact with the speakers.

Q) What does a virtual Town Hall actually mean? What is the set up?

For us it means a way for our leadership team to have a two-way interaction with our people when they’re not all in the office, which enables them to talk through the key business topics and have a conversation about these with internal stakeholders.

We wanted to share important information, get feedback, take questions, show presentations, ask and answer questions in real time. As an audience member, you simply click on a link. You watch the speakers on your laptop or phone screen.

As a viewer you can choose your preferred view, download slides, opt for live captioning, submit written questions, answer poll questions or simply just listen in.  Anyone who can’t make it to the virtual Town Hall can watch it on catch up as we publish the broadcast on our intranet.

As a speaker you can opt to all be together in the same location or join from around the organisation. Speakers can’t see the audience but they can take written questions and feedback from them and use polls to check on viewers understanding or thoughts on a specific issue. Questions can be filtered and a full question log means any unanswered ones can be responded to later.

For internal communications, it provides an interactive platform for people to engage virtually with leadership teams, but this can be broadened out to allow viewers to join events.

So, for example we used it to run a session on understanding the menopause on World Menopause Day in 2019. We run the sessions in partnership with our IT team as our system links up to the video conferencing system. They’re essential to delivering these sessions.

Q) Who is your virtual Town Hall for?

We run a regular session called All Hands Connected, which is open to all our internal stakeholders.

Q) How do you plan the agenda?

We plan our agenda’s carefully because our evidence has shown us that it’s not easy to retain participants for longer than 60 minutes.

For us we know that the interactive elements are well received, so we try and limit the presentation to no more than 25 minutes, and give at least 30 minutes over to questions.

The content is always business led and speakers get a short time to get their messages over.

Q) How often do you hold them?

We’ve found that running them every couple of months works well. It fits into the rhythm of our communication.

Q) What do your leaders think?

The approach has become increasingly popular with some of the leadership team who’ve begun running their own regular directorate Town Halls as a way to connect with their people. For speakers it can be disconcerting to know you’re speaking to the entire organisation but not see anyone except a few colleagues making it happen behind the scenes, but to make it feel like a genuine exchange, these colleagues will give some non verbal response to it feel more of an interaction.

Q) What’s your top tip for other internal communication practitioners? What do they need to know about virtual Town Halls?

Three essentials for me would be …

1) Help with moderating the session
Some of our leadership team enjoy handling the questions as they come in, but others like having a moderator to do the welcome and format for the Town Hall, put the questions being asked by staff to the leadership team and end the session.

2) Check the environment
Make it welcoming, explain how to they can interact, make it less formal, have good lighting, use banners as backdrops and check what’s in view, even down to checking what’s written on the bottom of someone’s mug!

3) Keep to time.

Q) Is there anything else you think we should know or you want to tell me?

Start small and grow.

Thank you very much Jo.

Are you holding virtual Town Halls? What works well for you? Do check out my guidelines and get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share with other IC practitioners.

Further reading about technology via the All Things IC blog:

 

8 April 2020 update: I spotted this via LinkedIn today from Jamie Angus at PDSA, they are using Microsoft Teams for their leadership communication.

Thank you for stopping by, I hope you have a great weekend.

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 13 March 2020.

 

 

 

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