Are you responsible for creating All Employee Meetings in your organisation?
Perhaps you call them Town Halls, or All Hands.
Whatever the name, getting these sessions to work well can be a challenge.
I’ve explored this topic in the latest episode of my Candid Comms podcast, which has just been published.
About Candid Comms
The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.
Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.
Further reading and resources from this week’s episode
- How to run a virtual Town Hall
- How to create a channel strategy
- An introduction to internal communication channels.
- How RNIB use Workplace by Facebook
- What Internal Communicators Need to Know About Accessibility.
Transcript of this week’s episode
You’re listening to the Candid Comms Podcast with Rachel Miller. Tune in for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related. Hello and welcome to the show.
Today’s episode is all about the All Employee Meeting. You perhaps know it as a Town Hall or an All Hands or an All Colleague Call, whatever you know it as, that is our focus for today, and you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about.
You ready? Let’s get started. All employee meetings or town halls are part and parcel of internal communication inside many organisations, however you refer to them internally, just stick with me.
For consistency, I’ll probably refer to it as a Town Hall. And I remember when I started out in internal communication hearing that part of my role was to help plan the Town Hall, and I didn’t know what that was, not least because I’d just spent four years working as a journalist and my Town Halll was the local building where the council conversations happened and decisions were made.
So I remember hearing this phrase for the first time and thinking, “I don’t know what that is.” And I had an amazing boss called Viv, and I was able to take her aside and say, “Please, can you tell me what that is? I don’t know what that is.”
And she said, “Oh, it’s an opportunity where we bring as many employees together as we possibly can in one place where they hear company news, they hear from our MD and they keep up to date with what’s going on.” I was like, “Right. Got it. Ok.” So let me ask you, if you have a Town Hall in your organisation, what is it for?
This is what we need to know. What’s the purpose? What’s the point? Why does a town hall exist? If you are planning your internal communication channels and if you have a channel’s matrix in place, and I’ll include a link in the show notes at allthingsIC.com/podcast to previous episodes of the Candid Comms Podcast that are focused on channels.
Further reading: How to create a channel strategy.
If you’re not sure how to plan channels and you’re not sure how to create a channel’s matrix, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ll pop it in the show notes so you can refer back and have a look and learn how to create your own.
I also have an Online Masterclass on creating channels as well, which I’ll pop a link to in the show notes.
Online Masterclass: An introduction to internal communication channels.
But imagine you do have a Town Hall and it’s part and parcel of your suite of channels inside your organisation. You need to know why it exists. So is your Town Hall the go-to place where people hear directly from your leaders? Great, that’s part and parcel of your purpose. Or perhaps it’s the only opportunity where your colleagues can ask your managers, your leaders, face to face what’s on their minds. They can ask them questions.
Now, I said face to face here, I think it’s important that we just pause to take stock of the fact that traditionally Town Hall were very much in-person affairs. They were typically held at head offices, maybe if you had an atrium for example, a huge area, or areas with balcony, people would get together.
In fact, I’ve got two clients who call their town halls balcony briefings for that exact reason because in their head office there are balconies and employees hang around the balconies and the leadership team are on the ground floor and everybody is there to listen and observe.
In fact, I saw a Town Hall recently in Succession, if you are a fan of the Succession series, which I believe is on Netflix, I think it is, I remember they had an all hands there, a Town Hall, in one of the episodes and as an internal communicator, I was fascinated to see what happened. Now, I won’t spoil what happened in that episode, but it was fairly explosive. So if you are interested to watch Succession, I recommend it, but particularly I found the Town Hall scene very revealing as an internal communicator.
Now, I’m conscious that I’ve used the phrase face to face a number of times. Let’s just have a bit of a reality check here because, Comms friends, I am recording this in 2022 and because the past couple of years have happened, what I’m observing inside organisations is that typically where Town Halls were face to face scenarios and situations, now they’re typically a mix where they might be virtual, they might be hybrid, or they might actually have stuck with face to face.
So there’s various opportunities now to think about your Town Hall in a different way. So if traditionally it was always a face to face conversation where your people gathered and there was no other way to see it, so you had to literally be in the room or miss out, that’s always been a missed opportunity for internal communication.
What had started to happen just before 2020 where people were starting to experiment with how can we video our Town Hall? How can we share it with our colleagues who aren’t able to be here in person? Maybe they work in different geographies, so there’s a time difference, or we don’t really have the tech in place to be able to live stream. People had started to experiment where there were some live streaming sessions happening, people were using things like Workplace by Facebook, or Meta as it is now, to live stream their Town Halls to show their colleagues, their leaders going live, for example. I remember featuring RNIB, the Royal National Institute for the Blind People, on my blog back in probably 2016, I think, and we were talking about how they were using Workplace by Meta. And at that point the CEO was talking about how she was going live and it was a way to connect colleagues with each other.
Further reading: How RNIB use Workplace by Facebook.
So people had started to do this. It’s not fair to say that nobody was live streaming their Town Hall and nobody was videoing and repurposing, but that’s such a brilliant thing to do nowadays, I think, because the last couple of years have happened and we had to take a step back from our face to face activities when our people could not be together for safety reasons. Then now, one good thing perhaps out of the pandemic is that people are open to experimenting more with different technology and different ways of connecting people to bring them together to create a sense of belonging when we can’t be all in the same room physically.
What an incredible opportunity we now have, Comms friends. So if you have a Town Hall, I’m curious whether it’s changed over the years. It might be that it was face to face only and then maybe you dabbled with a bit of live streaming, or maybe you’ve been recording the Town Hall and then maybe you’ve been stripping out the audio and turning it into a podcast. Perhaps you’ve been then putting it on your intranet as a video or the audio file for colleagues who weren’t able to be there in person or dial in when it was live to be able then to see what they missed.
So in order to plan a brilliant all employee meeting, I think you have to start with why does this exist? How does it fit within our channels mix? What is this channel known for? I encourage you to think about that. So if you have a Town Hall in place, what’s it for? Is it the go to place where… What? Fill in the blanks.
You’ll know better than me. You’ll know your organisation better than I do. Tell me what it is. Why does your Town Hall exist? Is it the only place where you share certain financial information? Is it the only place where you recognise your employees, where perhaps you do long service awards or maybe it’s the only place where if you’re a multi-location or multiple geographies where your extended leadership team across all the geographies dial in together, for example? Whatever it is, capture that, write that down because if you’re trying to plan an effective Town Hall, be really clear about why does it exist, How does it earn its place in your Internal Communication channels mix.
The second area of focus today, and something I want you to do, is I want you to experience your Town Hall. And I mean experience as an employee. I certainly remember from my in-house career when I sat in a Town Hall, whether it was in person or whether it was virtual, you are there as an internal communicator where… I was always remember feeling quite anxious in terms of, “Are my leaders going to be on point? Are they going to remember what to say? Do we have the right facts and figures from the finance team? Has anything changed that I’m not aware of? Is the audio going to work? Are the videos going to work?” I mean, the list is endless, Comms friends, you will have your own.
And then we come to, “Is anybody going to ask questions? Are they going to ask difficult questions? Are my leaders going to be able to answer these questions?” I mean, shall we keep going? I’m sure, sure, sure that you’ll have your own.
That’s me experiencing a Town Hall as an internal communicator. Now, what if I was to experience it as a colleague, as an employee? What would that experience be like? Probably quite different.
I wouldn’t be thinking, “Are my leader’s going to be on message? What other questions going to be? Is the audio going to work?” I’m there to experience it.
So I encourage you to listen to your employees. If you have comms champions or eyes and ears groups or internal groups, networks, inside your organisation that you can tap into, do do that. Ask them about your employee Town Hall, ask them about the town hall experience, what do they think? What do they know it for? Why do they turn up? If they don’t go to the Town Hall, why not?
I encourage you to do a little bit of listening in terms of what’s the experience like for them? So if we know what the purpose is, if we’re really clear in our minds in terms of how this as a channel fits into our thinking when it comes to Internal Communication, so we’ve got a really clear vision of what a great town hall looks like, and I encourage you to do that if you’ve not done that before, write that down, “What does good look like?” And if that feels really hard to answer, flip it on its head, “What does a bad Town Hall look like within our organisation?” That episode on Succession is probably a good benchmark.
But then think about the experience. So what is the experience that you want to create or you need to create inside your organisation for your colleagues to enjoy? What is it in terms of the opportunity that you want to create? Is it that you want to create an environment where they feel comfortable, they feel informed, they feel able to be comfortable enough to ask questions? Once you are clear on the experience that you want your employees to have as a result of attending a town hall, be it live, be it in the room, be it on replay, that is the lens to look through to help plan an all employee meeting.
So what’s the criteria? Why does this session exist? What is it you want to get out of it? It might be that you have five topics that are always the same every town hall. You’re very clearly managing expectations where it makes it very easy to say “no” to people who want to get on the Town Hall agenda because you know it’s going to be looking back before we’re going forward, an update from the CEO, an update from the front line, so other people. Doesn’t always have to be your CEO, doesn’t always have to be your senior leaders. It’s way more interesting, frankly, to amplify the voices of your people, be it in person or via video, whatever that looks like. Don’t always have the same people having the same conversations.
Try and change it up a little bit. And it might be that you have an employee recognition part, financials, I mean all sorts. You’ll know better than I do what you do inside your organisation.
But you could be really prescriptive. You could have five sessions or five segments that happen every single town hall meeting, and therefore it’s really easy to manage expectations because the same thing happens every time. One mistake I see organisations make fairly regularly is not making the most of the content. When you put a town hall agenda together and when you put the content together, it can often take days because you are fact checking everything.
You are trying to get everything really organised, you’re trying to coach your leaders, you’re maybe doing a practise session, you’re maybe getting videos edited. The effort and energy the internal communicators put into town halls is significant. So you want to make sure that you’ve got a really good return on investment there. You want to make sure that all of that content is working super hard for you.
We’re going to take a short break and when we come back, we’re going to finish our episode by focusing on what we need to think about and I’m going to pick up on that content comment that I just made a moment ago about making sure your content is working hard enough for you. See you in a moment.
Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to share some thoughts with you on how you can repurpose and replay some of that content that you’ve really worked hard to create for your town hall. I wonder whether you create brand new content for every Town Hall? Imagine if you’ve pulled together a video that focuses on your charity efforts, perhaps, maybe your colleagues have been raising money around the globe for a certain cause which is important to you as an organisation, maybe you have a CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, initiative where your colleagues have been out and about raising money for charity and maybe you’ve created a video of a fundraising day, perhaps that you held across the globe.
Now putting that together requires some effort. So how can you repurpose that content? One of the ways I think you could repurpose the content is by reusing that video, and you could slice and dice it, you could cut it up a different way or edit it a different way, but you could use that content on things like your career site, for example. That’s a great window into your culture. This is who we are, this is what we do. This is what’s important to us as an organisation because when you join an organisation, you are joining people. It’s not a faceless entity. So I think it can be really valuable to have an insight into your employer brand, which is your reputation and promise as an employer.
A video like that I think can be brilliant to highlight and showcase “these sorts of people do these sorts of things inside our organisation.” So why not consider whether you could put it on your recruitment website or your careers website? It could also be really valuable in terms of induction.
So when people are joining the organisation, could you repurpose a video there? Could you do a montage that shows these are the sorts of activities that you could get involved with, for example? Think about your annual report. How could you showcase those stories at the end of the year? I love to keep this in mind. I have this conversation a lot with All Things IC’s clients.
Whenever I hear that they’re doing something that I think is really valuable and really interesting, like putting together a montage of employee stories, I encourage them at the same time when they’re creating it to think about how to record it for end of year.
So if I was doing a video about an event that was happening, this charity event that was happening, I would encourage my clients to think about why you’ve got film crew in place or why you’re encouraging colleagues to film clips and send them in, then why don’t you ask them to do an end of year message at the same time, or perhaps do a call to action to say, “Sign up for next year’s event.” Then, when the end of the year rolls around, you’ve already got footage that you can reuse and repurpose, or you’ve already got footage in place when next year’s event rolls around in 12 months time.
Trust me, your future self will thank you that you have footage showing colleagues from last year’s event saying, “We’re having such a great time today. Why don’t you consider signing up for next year’s scheme?” Gold dust. Your future selves will thank you.
So think about when you’re creating content for town halls, whatever it might be, how can you repurpose that content? How can you reshape it and how can you mould it to help you plan other channels, particularly in annual report or an end of year report or quarterly reports. These sorts of things rely on this type of content and stories that we typically put in a town hall. So there we have it, a whistle stop tour through the world of the all employee meeting. If you are doing hybrid meetings, so maybe, and this is a phrase that we are overusing in the world of internal Comms at the moment, Comms friends, but typically how I’m seeing it being used is hybrid is being used in this context to describe we’re doing an in-person session, but there’s also opportunity for people to dial in remotely as well.
So perhaps if you are doing that, if you are doing a hybrid meeting, think about what good looks like from that perspective. Do you have etiquette in place? Do you need to put rules in place, things like you need to have your cameras on, or do you have a system in place where people automatically are muted when they come in, for example? Or you have mechanisms where you require people to raise their hands if they want to ask a question, or you do polls, for example, where you’re trying to encourage direction. Whatever that looks like, there’s an absolute myriad of things that you could possibly create and determine when planning your town halls in a hybrid or online environment where you’re trying to encourage participation.
A personal plea from me, if you are repurposing your content in terms of it’s being recorded and that it’s being uploaded onto your intranet, please make sure that it is accessible. And that’s twofold, really. That’s not only that your colleagues can access the content, so if it’s got sound, have they got sound cards? Can they actually watch the content? But also from an accessibility perspective, for people who have impairments, who are perhaps deaf or hard of hearing, like myself. I recorded an episode back in season three, episode eight, What Internal Communicators Need to Know About Accessibility, so in that context, it would be great to have things like closed captions, for example, where your employees can toggle subtitles on or off. So that helps to make the content accessible.
So I encourage you to think about that. So how can you make sure that when you are having an online version of a town hall or all employee meeting, that you are helping to make the content accessible for people who were perhaps in the room and missed the questions because of the volume or are watching it on catch up, on replay. I hope you found this useful. As ever, I’d love to know what you’re taking away or what is really helpful from this episode? What are you going to do differently? What are you going to try? Do let me know. You are very welcome to get in touch with me via Twitter @AllThingsIC. Find me on LinkedIn, Rachel Miller, find me on Instagram, @rachelallthingsic or send a note via our website, allthingsIC.com/contact. And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.
Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on the All Things IC blog 20 October 2022.