When done well, corporate town hall meetings are an inspiring way to get everyone on the same page, to communicate your MIT priorities, to hear what’s on the minds of the people closest to your customer, and to say thank you. We’re huge believers in great town hall meetings, motivational kickoffs, and bringing the team together for a creative ruckus.
And as keynote speakers, we are often truly honored to be included in these corporate events. It’s awesome to collaborate and hear the messaging and how the senior team is working to engage and connect with the team. It’s the best when we can all work together and align and integrate our ideas to have the greatest impact.
6 Critical Mistakes to Avoid in Your Town Hall Messaging
We’ve seen some amazing Winning Well communication from rock star leaders. And sadly, we’ve also experienced a few town hall meetings that, despite best intentions, turned into a colossal waste of time and expense.
What makes the difference?
No amount of theme-based snacks, creative SWAG, or even remarkable keynote speaking can make up for poor messaging from the senior leader. Be sure to avoid these six common, critical mistakes when forming your message in your town hall meetings.
1.Talking EBITDA* over What I Need From Ya
Of course, including a few slides on the state of the business is important. Your team wants that kind of transparency. But resist the urge to pontificate on all the details. Work to simplify the messaging and focus on the “so what?” What do you want them to do to move the needle? How can they make an impact on the bottom line? Be as specific as possible in terms of needed behaviors.
2. Winging It
“Oh I had some notes prepared, but you know what, I’m going to just throw these away and talk to you.” Every time we hear these words, we cringe.
We get what you’re trying to do here, and we love the sentiment. You’re looking to show up real and really connect. And yet, the CEOs who really pull this off well, aren’t actually winging it–they’re usually the ones with the MOST executive communication training and experience.
They know exactly what they want their audience to think, feel and do as a result of their message. They know what stories they might want to share and why. They may not know the exact words, but trust us, the folks that pull this off have a master plan.
3. Banning Interaction
It might seem paradoxical to hold a town hall meeting without a time for questions, but we’ve seen it happen. When you don’t engage with your people you look either insecure or arrogant. Insecure leaders don’t believe their own message. Arrogant leaders lack the confident humility to Channel Challengers.
4. Staging Q & A
Nearly as bad a mistake as no interaction is faked interaction.
Just like when preparing for skip-level meetings, we highly recommend you do your homework and consider the questions you’re most likely to be asked—and to consider your best answers so you’re not caught off guard.
What shouldn’t be rehearsed is the people asking the questions. If your direct reports are meeting with their teams to vet all the questions in advance, and telling folks what they can and cannot ask you, you’re completely defeating the purpose. We’ve seen this practice more than once. Bless their hearts, they’re just trying to prevent their teams from embarrassing themselves in front of you. But that’s not the point is it?
Take questions, be ready for the tough ones, and grow your influence by answering authentically.
5. Being Out of Touch
This a particularly cringe-worthy mistake. David has sat with entry-wage employees while a leader spoke to them about the difficulties of owning a sailboat in the Caribbean. Back in Karin’s corporate executive days, she sat with her team as her boss took the stage in a town hall that she had helped to arrange. She watched as her boss delivered the most out-of-touch message you can imagine:
Her team and many others in the audience had been in one of those “all hands on deck” seasons … as requested from senior leaders. No vacations. Lots of overtime. Crazy hours for all.
Then, from the microphone, they heard the leader say, “At the end of the day it’s all about work-life balance. Here are pictures of me and my kids over the last week. I’ve got to tell you, in the last decade, I’ve never missed a little league game.”
Karin’s phone blew up. It was May, the heart of little league season. She had a team of people who really cared about their kids and their sports, all of whom had missed a little league game that week. #NotHelpful
6. Bringing the Diaper Drama
Don’t wrap hard truth in layers of spin, manipulation, and evasive double-speak. We’ve watched leaders who didn’t trust their people enough to be honest with them lose all credibility as they avoided saying what needed to be said. If you have to reorganize to stay competitive, if a new initiative is going to require changes, or if everyone needs to improve their customer service by a quantum level, it’s time to Ditch the Diaper Drama. Think through the consequences of the change, have a plan in place, be compassionate, and speak the truth.
When you avoid these six mistakes, you’re on your way to town hall meetings that inspire your people to achieve results with specific behaviors and build more connected relationships with every team member. What are your secrets to successful corporate town hall meetings?
*Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization