The way that we work has changed rapidly since the pandemic, with more people than ever before working flexibly. Whether your team is completely remote or has hybrid working arrangements, chances are you won’t have everyone in the same place at the same time very often. This has always been true for large organizations with people working in different offices.
For communicators, this can pose some challenges in bringing everyone together to share information and celebrate success. Delivering virtual town hall meetings may be the solution that you need. Video conferencing makes it easier than ever before to run an online.
What is a virtual town hall meeting?
A virtual town hall meeting is a virtual event held in a company so that the leadership team can communicate with employees and share important information. These events are also used to build corporate culture, encourage collaboration, improve employee engagement and help to promote employee buy-in to company goals, objectives and key priorities.
Also known as “all-hands” meetings, they provide an opportunity for employees to also have their voices heard while hearing directly from management about essential business updates.
Because of the changing nature of the modern workplace, a virtual townhall lets you reach more people than a traditional one. Whether staff are working remotely, or located in different geographic areas, everyone can come together at once for a virtual town hall meeting and have access to the same information.
The pros and cons of hosting virtual town hall meetings
As with many things, there are benefits and disadvantages to hosting virtual town hall meetings.
Benefits of virtual town hall meetings:
- Employees have firsthand access to information shared by management.
- Helps to improve the visibility of the organization’s leadership.
- Can reinforce your company culture and values.
- Encourages teamwork and collaboration and helps employees get to know each other better.
- Boosts levels of employee engagement.
- Gives management the chance to hear feedback firsthand.
- Is a more inclusive town hall method - employees can attend no matter where they are working.
- Significantly less expensive than running an in-person event.
- Encourages thought leadership within your organization.
- Unlike with in-person town halls, you can get a range of analytics.
- Helps staff from different parts of the company understand the “big picture” and also exposes them to what their colleagues are working on.
- Good for boosting morale.
- Helps to keep your senior management team accountable to staff.
- A COVID-safe way of hosting a large gathering.
Disadvantages of virtual town hall meetings:
- The virtual town hall meeting can be complex to organize, particularly if you have staff in different time zones.
- Don’t always suit all employees such as part-time staff or non-desk workers.
- Information provided by management may be scripted or filtered – telling people what they think they want to hear.
- Some people don’t like having to speak in front of large groups of people.
- There is a risk that employees will not participate at all – for example no questions in a Q&A session.
- Confidential information could be breached.
- Larger organisations may not have sufficient capacity to have large scale online meetings on their network.
- Some platforms, such as Zoom, limit how many people can attend.
- People may not feel comfortable providing feedback without anonymity.
- Time constraints may limit the amount of time you are able to dedicate to specific topics that could benefit from a standalone meeting instead.
10 tips for running a successful virtual town hall
If you are going to deliver a virtual town hall meeting in your company, these tips will help to ensure that the process goes smoothly:
1. Choose a suitable time
When you set the date and time for your virtual town hall, take into consideration factors such as work priorities, major deadlines, time zones and the days when you have less staff working.
2. Give people advanced notice
Send employees invitations to your virtual town at least several weeks in advance so that they can save the time in their calendars – even if you don’t have a finalized itinerary when you send the virtual hotel email invitation. You can then send pre-event updates and reminders before the event takes place, for example, using screensavers or pop-up notifications.
3. Develop a clear agenda and schedule
It’s important that participants know what the agenda is and how long each agenda item has dedicated to it.
4. Call for questions in advance
Give people the opportunity to send their questions in ahead of the town hall – this will also give you good time to prepare appropriate responses.
5. Do a test-run of your tech before you go live
Make sure you test your tech and systems with a dry run of the virtual town hall so that you can understand any limitations and identify any issues that you may need to fix.
6. Have a live Q&A session
Even if you’ve called for questions in advance, people may have questions once they start hearing the information that’s being presented. Provide them with the opportunity to ask, in real time, at the event.
7. Use interactive elements to increase engagement
Your virtual town hall should be audience focused and involve the audience at every opportunity. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as running polls and quizzes, contests and other user generated content.
8. Record and share the town hall
By recording the virtual town hall you can ensure that people who were unable to attend live can still have access to it (without the interactive elements, of course). Making the recording available lets others go back and revisit certain topics later.
9. Get feedback
Gather feedback from virtual audience members and presenters about the meeting. Find out what they liked and what they didn’t like so that you can use their feedback to make improvements in the future.
10. Analyze your statistics
The platforms you use to deliver your virtual townhall meeting should contain analytics tools that will give you a range of insights into who participated and how they interacted.
Virtual town hall theme ideas
A virtual town hall shouldn’t just be about leadership talking to employees about KPIs and metrics for a few hours. It should be interesting and engaging and help to build your company culture. Here are some key themes that you can incorporate in virtual town hall sessions:
- Celebrate corporate achievements, eg: increased profits, winning a big contract with a major client
- Reward and recognition – celebrating individual employee and team achievements and successes.
- Updates on major projects and milestones.
- Run a quiz about your company.
- Have an “ice breaker”.
- Have a guest speaker on a topic that would be interesting to people in the company.
Sample virtual town hall meeting agenda
If you’re wanting to host a virtual town hall meeting and you’re not sure what to put on the town hall agenda, here’s a sample to give you some ideas:
- Welcome and house-keeping (setting out rules etc)
- CEO’s presentation about state of company/update on priorities and initiatives.
- Fun activity like a quiz.
- Team leaders’ presentations.
- Guest speaker
- Celebrations, milestones, achievements
- Q&A session.
Virtual town hall best practices
Once you commit to delivering virtual town halls within your organization, you will naturally want to ensure they are successful. The following best practice tips will help guide you:
- Make sure you include visual content that is engaging so as to keep peoples’ attention.
- Keep the opening short.
- Ensure your town halls are as interactive as possible.
- Examine your analytics in real time so you can determine if you are holding peoples’ interest, if they are participating etc.
- Include breaks in long events.
- Make it as fun for people as possible.
- Stick to your agenda and keep to the times you have allocated.
- Follow up after the town hall to provide links for those who missed it.
- Get feedback.
- Schedule virtual town halls on a regular basis, eg: quarterly.
What tools do you need for a virtual town hall?
There are different software options that you can use for a virtual town hall – sometimes the most successful virtual town halls will use a combination of different platforms.
1.Team videoconferencing software
Platforms that you use in your everyday working arrangements can often be used to host a virtual town hall. This can include hosting the virtual town hall meeting on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx etc.
2. Specialized webinar software
There are a range of other software packages on the market that are designed to broadcast more interactive seminars/meetings to audiences and may give more detailed analytics and controls to organizers, depending on their needs. This includes software such as GoToWebinar, LumApps or Splash.
3. Supplementary software
There are different software solutions that can bring more to your virtual town hall when used in conjunction with your virtual town hall platform. Examples include:
- DeskAlerts – to send quizzes, polls and surveys during and after the event, and to promote the event to staff in the lead up through a range of channels such as pop-up alerts, screensavers, scrolling desktop tickers and digital signage displays.
- Miro – an online collaboration tool that provides an interactive whiteboard which is great for people to use when working together during any breakout sessions.
- Prezi – an alternative to PowerPoint for creating slide presentations that can be easily integrated with most videoconferencing platforms.
A virtual town hall meeting can help keep your organization connected no matter where your staff are working. They can take time and effort to plan and execute, but if delivered properly you will experience many benefits to your team’s productivity and morale.
Frequently asked questions
How do you host a virtual town hall?
Virtual town halls can be hosted using software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to connect employees.
What is the purpose of a town hall meeting?
A town hall meeting is a way to bring all employees within a company together so that they can simultaneously hear the same information at the same time, have the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions and also participate in activities that are beneficial for team building, enhancing employee engagement and boosting morale.
What is the difference between town hall and all hands meeting?
The terms “town hall meeting” and “all hands meeting” are often interchangeable. However sometimes town hall meetings provide more opportunity for questions and answers while al hands can be focused on management presenting information only.