Engaging audiences with a new town hall meeting format

Employees are disengaged. They’ve checked out. They’re ambivalent towards their employers. Gallup calls it a crisis. Thought leaders such as Josh Bersin say the issue “is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators in business.”

Research from McKinsey shows that organizations that are good at motivating employees are 60% more likely to be in the top quartile for overall business health. Gallup says companies with highly engaged workforces outperform peers by 147%.

The message is clear: employers need employees to feel engaged. They need teammates and collaborators – not drones. To begin rethinking employee interaction, start with the overhaul of your town hall meeting format.

“It is equally important to know if we have a happy and engaged workforce as it is to have a profitable bottom line.”

― Vern Dosch, CEO and author of Wired Differently

The town hall meeting format reinvented

The town hall meeting – that staple of corporate employee relations – is evolving. Gone are the days of highly-staged, annual performances with bright lights and timed musical interludes, topped off with a tightly-vetted CEO Q&A. No more fog machines. No more rock concerts.

Enter the interactive town hall.

Here’s how it works: employees ask leaders questions. Leaders respond immediately. It’s an exchange; a genuine opportunity to share ideas and feedback on a company-wide scale. This simple town hall meeting format cuts right to the heart of employee engagement. When handled well, it can build trust across the entire company. Employees feel heard. Leaders get valuable feedback. And everyone returns to work invigorated with unity and purpose.

It’s okay to feel a little nervous.

Are there risks involved in running an open-mic meeting? Sure. There are always risks with any company-wide event. But if you let employees know their opinions are valued, they will respond with genuine, relevant feedback. Below are some tips and strategies to ensure the logistics of your new town hall meeting format run smoothly.

Poll Everywhere on mobile phone

Use an audience response system for live feedback

One of the biggest hurdles to running an interactive town hall is actually interacting with all the employees. With an audience response system such as Poll Everywhere, the audience submits live questions and comments from the privacy of their phones. This is an excellent way to include both in-person and remote attendees simultaneously. Here’s how it works:

  • Add interactive polls to the slide deck. Download Poll Everywhere for PowerPoint to create and embed interactive polls directly into your slide deck.
  • Present the polls during your town hall. Poll Everywhere slides are presented just like any other slide in your deck.
  • Visualize live audience feedback. Everyone can respond using their phones or other web-enabled devices. Their responses appear as animated graphs or charts that update automatically in the same slide as the poll.

Read more: How to run an inclusive retrospective meeting

Replace the script with an outline

With an audience response system, the presenter speaks directly with the audience. This means, as the organizer, you no longer need to script out every single word. Instead, you’re free to focus on the flow of the town hall. How will you incorporate live feedback into your town hall meeting format, and when? Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your ARS.

Draft each poll beforehand. The great thing about Poll Everywhere is the ability to create polls beforehand and embed them into your PowerPoint. There is no need to take time during the presentation to create a live poll. Additionally, Poll Everywhere has six poll types to choose from – including multiple-choice, word cloud, and Q&A – depending on the type of feedback you want. For example, multiple-choice is great for trivia, while Q&A (shown below) lets the audience type in their own questions and comments.

Use polls sparingly. To maximize retention during a meeting, cognitive scientist Carmen Simon recommends changing your presentation style every three minutes. Switching to an interactive poll is a great way to do this, but don’t lump them all together. Space them out so that the audience is constantly being re-engaged with a new, interactive activity.

Help the presenter help the audience. Instructions on how to respond to any Poll Everywhere poll are clearly displayed in the slide itself. Presenters can speed things up by reading these instructions to the audience and explaining how the process works.

Poll Everywhere in PowerPoint

Give your coworkers time to respond

It takes about 60 to 90 seconds for people to pull out their phones and respond to the first poll. Subsequent polls are much quicker, but that initial wait can feel like an eternity. Here are some ideas to help your executive pass the time without distracting the audience.

Play some music. If you have an AV setup, use it. Adding a little white noise to the background helps people focus on the task at hand (instead of every rogue cough and squeaky chair in the room). Here’s a personal favorite that I use when I need a feel-good tune: Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Air à Danser.

Reread the instructions. Read them slowly. If there are any attendants in the room, have the presenter ask employees who are struggling to raise their hand for assistance.

Read more: 20 staff meeting ideas that keep employees alert and engaged

Enable moderation with large crowds

Response moderation is something you have to think about before it becomes necessary. Many organizers trust adults to conduct themselves as adults when presented with an open-ended poll. And then you see the word “boring” appear in front of everyone (true story). Moderation keeps unproductive comments off the screen.

Moderate directly from your phone. Use the Poll Everywhere mobile app to approve and reject incoming responses live as you walk around the room. It’s a discreet, efficient way to ensure only the good stuff comes through. No one will be the wiser.

Make it a team effort. Ask a colleague to help you review responses as they appear. For added security, you can even set it up so that each individual response must be approved before it appears on screen. That means you can handpick the best ones for the presenter to discuss. Team moderation is available for all Poll Everywhere Enterprise plans.

Use it when you need it. You can enable moderation any time before, during, or after your presentation. Whenever you need it, it’s ready to go. Use it to tweak any polls created during the presentation before you send them out to the audience in a follow-up email.

Poll: Please submit your questions to our leadership panel

Prepare for unexpected responses

When you present a live poll, you hand over some control to the audience. That’s what changes the town hall meeting format into a two-way conversation. You won’t always know what the audience will say, but you can still prepare. Think through possible responses to a poll together, then coach your executive on how to respond.

It’s okay to say “I don’t know yet.”

Commit to your executive that you will provide the results of all polls presented during the meeting. This gives them the option to respond to tough or unexpected questions via email, in-person, or during the next meeting. Poll Everywhere automatically saves the results of all polls on My Polls, and lets you export the data as a CSV or a simple screenshot.

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