Much like a regular town hall or company-wide meeting, a virtual town hall is an online meeting where company leadership openly discuss various business-related topics with all employees. These meetings play an important role in creating alignment and building trust amongst remote employees, renewing their sense of belonging to the company.
Despite the increasing adoption of virtual town halls in global companies, it remains that virtual town halls are perceived to lack authenticity and engagement due to the lack of physical presence. However, armed with powerful technologies that are designed to support fruitful interactions and some creativity, you can easily inject authenticity and presence to virtual town halls!
Here’s a detailed guide on running an engaging virtual town hall and the various technologies you can leverage on to do so:
1. Plan your virtual meeting time based on multiple time zones
Virtual town hall planners often overlook the importance of setting a convenient time for everyone. While 2.30 pm on Tuesday is the best time to schedule a meeting, not everyone can enjoy this luxury. It is still crucial that you make an effort to find a good compromise between the different time zones so your employees’ feel their time and presence is valued.
These meeting planning tools can help you sidestep the laborious task of comparing the different time zones to find the best compromise:
Stripped down and function focused, this app can compare up to eight time zones simultaneously so you can pick the one that provides the best compromise between them. It also colour codes times to indicate general working hours (green), normal sleeping hours (red) and general non-working hours (yellow) making it visually easier to identify the right time slot.
Every Time Zone provides the same function with a more edgy design. The slider tool allows you to easily shift the time to compare how it corresponds to the time in other cities.
If your company is already using Slack, the Spacetime.am bot is something to consider. With team members’ location and work hours available on the app, you can easily schedule your town hall and inform them. The bot automatically changes the time to suit the receiver’s time zone.
If your company is spread across Asia, Europe and America, it is unlikely that every time zone will be pleased with their meeting time. In this case, keep a record of each meeting time so you can rotate the time with every company town hall. So if the Berlin office gets an afternoon meeting slot this round and the Singapore office suffers a 11pm slot, switch the meeting time up the next round.
2. Send a meaningful invitation and pre-event updates to your virtual audience
Whether a virtual or physical town hall, simply sending a calendar invite requesting your employees' attendance doesn’t cut it. A meaningful invitation is one that invites them to participate in a conversation. How exactly do you do that?
A. Design clear dial-in instructions for remote participants
Your remote audience shouldn’t need to scramble for dial-in instructions on the event day. Attach clear dial-in instructions and a detailed guide on what to do in the event of support to your invitation. You can also provide them with basic troubleshooting instructions based on issues different browsers may face when connecting.
B. Provide a clear agenda with event details
A clear agenda can make all the difference in enticing your attendees. A well-crafted agenda informs your attendees on how they will be committing their time during those two hours and encourages more people to RSVP to the virtual town hall.
Additionally, you can attach a dedicated event page on your company blog or wikis where all the event information (time, dial in instructions, links to any online tools that will be used) and any updates leading up to the event can be found.
Need inspiration for crafting your town hall agenda? Check out this article.
C. Invite questions ahead of the town hall
Crowdsourcing questions a few days or weeks before the town hall creates anticipation for your audience to attend the town hall. Your virtual audience will also feel involved in shaping the town hall, even if they are miles away, in a different time zone.
Use Q&A tools such as Pigeonhole Live to crowdsource questions from your virtual audience before and on the day of your event.
3. Choose the right technology partners for your event
Your virtual town hall is powered by tech platforms that make live streaming and audience engagement possible. Picking the right technology partners to assist you ensures that your audience doesn’t suffer the consequences of poor audio, disrupted visuals, or a messy user interface.
Here’s a list of reliable tech partners:
Brightcove specialises in providing reliable and scalable broadcast across multiple devices and platforms for enterprises. Brightcove delivers live videos at highest quality of audio and visuals with a stable connection.
Livestream provide end-to-end live video solution for any audience size you need. The software has powered many high-quality live videos with easy and secure access.
Pigeonhole Live is a live audience engagement platform that allows you to crowdsource questions from your audience live, run different types of polls, and quizzes, to keep your audience engaged during town halls while collecting valuable feedback.
Pigeonhole Live integrates seamlessly with live streaming platforms such as Brightcove, Livestream, and Kollective so there’s no hassle in switching between the platforms during the event. It also offers insights at the end of the event so you can analyse your audience engagement levels at each session, their votes, and feedback.
If you are already on Microsoft 360, you can consider hosting your live event on Microsoft Stream. Stream is designed for company-wide events such as virtual town halls and enable producers to curate and control the content that is broadcast to the audience. Organisers can also monitor the audience engagement during the live event.
Igloo has built a one-stop software especially for conducting virtual town halls called “The Virtual Town Hall”. The software is optimised to host a live stream, make announcements and collect feedback. Organisers can also archive past town halls, so those who missed the live event can view it.
4. Test run your events:
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
When you are running a digital event that relies heavily on technology, preparation is key to make sure that all the tech elements work seamlessly together to produce a successful event.
Full-scale test-runs are crucial for two reasons:
A. Surface issues with tech elements
Any issues with the tech elements can surfaced ahead of time so you can work with your tech partners to troubleshoot before the actual event day. This includes checking for the strength of the wifi connection, compatibility of different platforms, and the quality of the output.
B. Ensure that all stakeholders are familiar with the tech and the event process
Everyone in charge of the various tech elements on the event day needs to be familiar with it and know what to do in case of a glitch. Running through the event as a whole will help everyone look out for potential issues to take note of on the day and plan ahead for a solution.
Despite all the preparation, tech slip-ups are sometimes unavoidable so addressing it instantly is crucial. Glitchy visuals and audio can cause inconvenient delays and cause remote workers to lose out on valuable information and participation. It’s always best to have a point of contact at each remote location to quickly inform the production team when it happens.
5. Start with ice breaker games that fit your virtual audience
Short ice breaker exercises go a long way in getting everyone in an open and participative mood. Buffer employees have a tradition of taking turns to serve as a DJ or live musician and play music while waiting for everyone to join the call. Trello, on the other hand, has someone read a list of their company’s core philosophies out loud before the town hall to reinforce their company culture and shared values.
While quirky, the success of Trello and Buffer's ice breakers come from the fact that they best complement the company culture, resonate with their employees and can be easily executed online. Picking ice breakers that resonate with your virtual audience and kickstart their participation will make a difference in setting the tone for your virtual town hall.
For more inspiration on ice-breakers that can be conducted completely online, check out this article.
6. Acknowledge the presence of your remote teams during the meeting
A virtual town hall is not just an opportunity for you to discuss business updates and share upcoming goals. It’s also an opportunity for your remote teams to ask questions, especially since they don’t get frequent face time with the leadership. So, make sure you allocate sufficient time for a Q&A session.
When you conduct a virtual town hall you also need to ensure that your remote audience feel acknowledged and have the means to raise any comments or questions comfortably. You can do so by:
A. Allowing them to use their microphone
Asking questions through the microphone can be a good way to mimic the presence and interactivity of an in-person town hall. However, take note that the quality of audio output may vary from one device to another, often causing issues with the comprehension of the question for the organiser and other virtual attendees. Moreover, some attendees may not feel comfortable asking questions through their mic.
B. Use a Q&A platform to gather questions
In the case of a virtual town hall, Q&A platforms such as Pigeonhole Live provide great alternatives or supplement to microphones. You can easily crowdsource questions from your attendees before and during the event and have it displayed on the screen in real-time. Attendees can also up-vote questions that they like helping you decide which questions to answer first.
C. Let them chat in an interactive window
Some live streaming platforms also come with the function of interactive chat windows where attendees can chat with each other during the virtual town hall. This might provide the social and interactive elements that are characteristic to in-person town halls.
7. Keep your virtual audience engaged with interactive tactics
If speakers tend to lose their audience after 10 minutes during in-person presentations, can you imagine how much worse it is if their audience is not present in the room? Maintaining the connection and engagement with your virtual audience is much more difficult due to the absence in the atmosphere and the increase in distractions.
Introducing interactive activities such as live polls and quizzes throughout the event keeps your audience engaged and energised throughout the town hall. Interactive tactics also help to create a social element to an otherwise individual-oriented town hall.
If you’re wondering what interactive activities work best with virtual town halls, here are two simple ones to start with:
A. Opinion poll
Before opening your presentation, you can conduct a quick poll with your audience on a something general or a topic related to what you are covering. For example, you could open with “Where should we go for the next company retreat?” and give multiple choice options for them to vote on.
B. Short quiz on presentation material
Remember when teachers asked you to pay attention because there’s a quiz at the end of class? Use the same logic here! Tell your audience there’s a fun quiz at the end of the presentation. The element of competition will get them more engaged in your presentation.
8. Align your company meeting topics and presentation with your digital distribution mediums
Ever heard of the saying the medium is the message? If you want your message to reach your audience in the intended manner, you have to adapt the delivery to the medium of distribution used.
When engaging employees through a livestream event, you need to align your topics and presentation content to a live video format. So, as an organiser you need to ensure that your virtual town hall presenters keep the following in mind:
A. Keep slides simple and to the point
Use your slides to convey points to your audience. You can use visuals and animations where they help to better explain a point but avoid cluttering your slides with too many elements.
B. Ensure that the presenter is visible to your audience
A CEO’s address without a CEO at sight is not going to sit well with virtual audience. Seeing the person delivering the point helps to build authenticity with the audience. And make sure that the presenter is looking at the camera and not the screen when addressing the audience.
C. Practice the presentation beforehand
Practice the presentation delivery with all the technology in advance. Make sure you are familiar with all the transitions and how to manage the audience engagement tools, if any. Record your presentation to observe what can be improved on.
D. Have someone assist you during your presentation
Have someone handle any technical issues that come your way. If you’re using an audience engagement platform such as Pigeonhole Live, having someone assist you with running your polls or moderating the Q&A session can ease some stress during your presentation.
For more tips on presenting to a virtual audience check out this article by Stanford Graduate School of Business.
9. Provide a recording and summary of the digital town hall meeting
Some employees will inevitably miss the live broadcast of the town hall for various reasons. To ensure that they don’t miss out on valuable information, always provide a recording of your town hall for them to watch.
Recording your virtual town hall also provides you with great content to repurpose for other communication efforts. You can repost snippets of the video on your internal employee communication channel to motivate employees or use quotes and excerpts of presentation as promotional material.
It's inevitable that your virtual audience will miss out on some information during the town hall. Always assign two or three note-takers for every virtual town hall and send everyone a recap of everything that was discussed. You can even include answers to the questions you were not able to answer during the town hall in the recap.
10. Analyse the statistics of your virtual town hall attendance to measure success
One of the best parts about conducting a virtual town hall is that your metrics for success is logged and available to you in real-time.
With the use of a comprehensive audience engagement platform such as Pigeonhole Live, you can log key success metrics such as engagement levels and employee ratings of the answers to their questions. You also have access to qualitative data such as the top concern amongst employees from the list of top voted questions and poll answers.
Adding a post event survey can also be a great way to get more detailed feedback for your next virtual town hall.
Virtual town halls are here to stay. It’s time to review how you plan and conduct town halls so you can provide the best experience for your audience.