Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
Hey, wasn’t that PowerPoint supposed to add pizzazz to your presentation?
So how come your audience is nodding off in their seats as you offer your chipper updates and overwrought slides?
If this is a familiar scenario, take a lesson from Jack in the Box Inc, the $3.4 billion San Diego-based company that owns and operates the chains Jack in the Box and QDOBA Mexican Eats. Along the way, you might learn how to get employees to speak up—and to gather valuable data.
In a Ragan Training video, “Internal Meetings 2.0: Get rid of lackluster employee events,” Jack in the Box Inc.’s Golda Akhgarnia tells how the organization successfully made meetings fun and useful for employees and senior leaders alike.
The meetings have grown more dynamic as communicators and the chief executive embraced new ways to reach employees, says Akhgarnia, senior manager of internal brand communications.
Here are some tips and extraordinary meeting formats to try out in your organization:
Get an inflatable campfire.
Ever wonder what on earth people do with those wacky inflatable props you see at party stores, such as fake campfires? Well, for one thing, they use them in internal communications.
The company’s then-president, now the CEO, started “fireside chats” several years ago to help employees understand strategy and to learn what’s on their minds.
Every quarter, Akhgarnia would meet with the president and say: “What is the pressing issue right now? What do we want either update employees on, or what do we want to hear from them?”
The result was topics for an employee meeting at which co-workers get updates and pose questions to executives. The meetings are meant to be interactive, and the campfire provides a tangible symbol of the meeting. People see her carrying it around the corporate offices, and they remark, “Oh, hey, it’s time for another fireside chat,” Akhgarnia says
Use kazoos and a laser pointer.
You’ve made a great presentation. Wouldn’t it be nice to get some feedback? How about using a laser pointer and handing out cheap plastic kazoos?
Kooky, you say? Listen up. In dreaming up creative ways to get employee feedback, Akhgarnia decided to order a box of kazoos before a meeting, then showed her audience slides with a horizontal line on them. (She cleared it with the chief executive first, and he loved it.)
One question read, “Do I get formal feedback from my supervisor?”
The line ran from a chirping cricket on the far left (i.e., silence) to an image of two figures shaking hands and talking (i.e., yes, great feedback).
As she ran her laser pointer slowly from left to right, she asked people to toot their position on the chart. The plan worked, and it was a fun and inexpensive way to get feedback.
Set a time limit.
The company has a quick Monday meeting called the soapbox. It’s an informal stand-up meeting bringing together people from across departments.
Speakers are given two minutes. Akhgarnia has a friend at another organization that makes the speaker hold a bowling ball while talking in meetings. There’s only so long most people can blab with that 16-pounder in their hands. (Then again, this tactic might give an unfair advantage to that showy, beefed-up bodybuilder on your team.)
The purpose of the soapbox meeting is to “align, inform or inspire,” Akhgarnia says.
- Alignment means offering an update about strategy to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Informing could mean telling about a product launch or a company event.
- Inspiring includes personal stories such as a discussion of The Jack in the Box Foundation’s support for the March for Dimes.
Speakers aren’t just directors and vice presidents. The organization wants everyone to feel free to pipe up—even interns.
In the company culture, “we don’t take ourselves seriously,” Akhgarnia says, “but we take our work seriously.”