Company town halls take a lot of preparation; setting an agenda, sending out invites, setting up the venue, and supporting technology. But most importantly, preparations need to be made for questions asked during the townhall.
With great culture and an intelligent team comes tough and difficult questions. That’s great for a company’s growth, but the last thing you want is to be put on the spot: rambling, going off point, and an open look of confusion and frustration that can make any great townhall go awry.
So how do you prepare for town hall questions, especially when they seem to be unpredictable?
Ask your team to pick the topic or ask questions in advance
The best way to focus everyone is to ask them to choose a topic to talk about. A simple poll sent in advance could help collect an idea of the company’s sentiment and unearth prominent questions that you may not realise are burning in your employees’ minds. By allowing employees to pick and vote for the topics they want to cover, you also increase the likelihood that the town hall will directly address employees most salient concerns.
Getting employees to ask questions in advance could also give you a chance to prep your answers carefully. It's important to write your answers down before you try to tackle them in person. The answer might seem obvious in your mind, but taking time to decide your phraseology in advance to use could save you a lot of grief.
Prepare for standard issue questions
Now that you’ve focused on a burning topic and collected questions ahead of time, it’s time to write down answers to possible questions. In our time supporting company town halls, we noticed a similar pattern for types of frequently asked questions. While the method of answering these questions would differ according to your company culture and management style, spending some time mentally preparing and choosing how to answer these questions could make a huge difference in motivating and inspiring a team. How upper management addresses pressing issues on the ground can affect employees’ trust in a company.
Here are five examples of commonly asked questions.
i. This instead of that.
“Why are we executing Plan X instead of Plan Y?”
People asking this question may have differing ideas from the direction management has chosen for the team. You can’t please everyone. There will always be people who disagree with the approach you take, and justifiably they will raise these objections.
Be ready to either accept the suggestions or to justify the approach you have taken. Alternatively, see if these suggestions can be collected before the townhall so you can think through these ideas and address the more popular ones.
ii. Addressing weak points
“X is something we’re doing badly. What are we doing to improve this?”
People asking this question during company town halls don’t necessarily need an answer now. Unless it is a pressing situation that has been brought up many times, it’s okay to take that suggestion and answer it at a later time.
“What are the goals for this project?”
Clarifications are great. It shows high employee engagement during the company town hall, and an interest to understand more about the topic presented. Prepare for these questions by creating an appendix of slides with more in-depth data. If you have another expert on your team, getting the support of that person during Q&A could also reiterate that decisions made in the company are a team effort.
iv. Money, money, money
“When are we getting a pay raise?”
Money is always a tricky topic to cover. If someone is asking about their own personal compensation, it’s better to acknowledge their concerns and encourage a one-on-one discussion with their managers or human resources.
If it’s about company finances, decide internally what numbers you’re comfortable sharing before the townhall meeting. Being too tight-lipped or unsure of the numbers in front of the company could come across badly, so aligning on safe-to-share data is critical.
v. More about you
“How do you manage your stress?”
Employees don’t get as much face-to-face with upper management as they hope, so these questions are their way of getting more time with them. Answer them well without taking up too much time. Spending more time answering questions about yourself than pertinent questions about the company’s future sends the wrong message.
Notice historical patterns
If the same questions crop up repeatedly over many meetings, it’ll be good to have a town hall meeting to discuss this matter specifically. For example, if you get a steady stream of questions about pay raises over a few town hall meetings, you might want to call a special townhall to address all pay raise issues, lead by the human resources team.
Prepare ways to say you don’t know
It’s inevitable. Sometimes you just won’t know the answer. The issue might not be fully resolved yet, you may not be concerned with that topic yet, or maybe you haven’t even thought about it from that angle before. Sometimes, you might just want to defer a question for the time being. Saying “I don’t know” directly may come across badly, but pulling an answer out of thin air is not effective and will put you in a bad light.
Instead of saying “I don’t know” outright, try these approaches.
- I don’t have the information I need to answer this right now, but I will find it.
- I’m not sure. I think it might be X, but I can’t say with certainty. I’ll find out.
- I’ve been trying to figure it out, alongside Person A and Person B. When we have an answer, I’ll let you know.
- That’s a very good question, and I appreciate the alternative point of view. I’ll consider it and get back to you.
Notice that the common element in all these replies is the promise of follow-up. Following up after the town hall is over shows employees that their questions and suggestions matter.
Answering questions well is a skill, and one that can be improved over time. If employees are providing feedback after the company town hall that their questions aren’t being answered well, it’s time to reflect on how you can improve.
Our answer ratings feature can help collect feedback as soon as you’re done answering the question, breaking down the feedback by question to see where your points of improvement are. A quick feedback survey after the event could also help gather information about the audience sentiments.
High employee engagement is important to any company. It boosts productivity, creates a great company culture, and reduces staff turnover. Find out more about how you can increase employee engagement in meetings as well.