How to make virtual town halls more interactive

As more organizations shift to online meetings and work sessions in response to COVID-19, it’s important to think about how to keep employees engaged.

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Virtual town hall meetings—especially those conducted with Microsoft Teams and Zoom—can be an effective way to bring leaders and employees together.

Yet in too many cases, virtual town halls lapse into a dull one-way experience. When employees feel like they don’t have an active role, they’ll check email, browse the internet or complete other work while the town hall plays in the background.

The solution? Increase participation to keep employees’ attentions. Here’s how:

1. Create the same experience for all employees.

When town halls have two audiences—those in the room and those virtually—it creates an unequal experience. It would be best to have everyone in the same room, but if employees can’t attend in person, run the town hall as a 100% virtual session.

2. Use all the tools in your virtual toolbox.

Virtual meeting systems offer an array of tools to make virtual meetings engaging. Get familiar with your virtual meeting platform’s tools and incorporate as many as possible. Here are three options that increase interaction:

  • Chat—lets employees ask questions, make comments and share ideas
  • Polling—allows the presenter to survey participants
  • Whiteboard—gets employees involved in brainstorming ideas

3. Rethink the agenda.

Invite employees to interact throughout the session, not just at the end. For example, kick off the town hall by asking participants to answer a question in the web chat, use the polling tool during the middle of the presentation and open up the phone line for a Q&A session at the end.

4. Add more PowerPoint slides.
Visuals are so important for virtual town halls because they’re often the only things to view. When a presenter stays on the same slide for a couple of minutes, participants get bored

Keep employees tuned in with striking visuals—and a lot of them. A good rule for presenting virtually is to double your slide count. To do this, cover only one point per slide and use images instead of words.

5. Put together a team.

Facilitating a virtual town hall alone can be a bit overwhelming. Create a team to help manage logistics so the town hall runs smoothly, and the leader has one job: engaging the audience.

When developing a team, consider filling the following roles:

  • Leader— This person presents information and answers questions.
  • Interaction coordinator — This person manages web tools, such as monitoring questions in the web chat, and operates the conference call.
  • IT support— This person helps the team set up and resolve any technical issues.
  • Facilitator— This person introduces the leaders and keeps track of time.

How are you connecting virtually with your teams? Share your experiences in the comments.

Breana Van Rye is an internal communications expert with Davis and Co. A version of this post originally ran on its blog.

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