Town halls. Quarterly, semi-annually — whatever the cadence — have mostly followed the same format since the beginning of town hall time. Think slides with crammed text, one-way dialogues only heard by those in the room, and a tome-like recap email.

Lately, however, businesses have shifted from stiff presentations to more authentic and engaging discussions with employees. How? By hosting inclusive and interactive live streaming town halls that provide an open environment for employees to express their concerns and align with company objectives.

Learning how to live stream town hall events has helped many companies reach more employees around the globe. Take Rite Aid, for example. In the wake of social distancing due to COVID-19, the drug store giant took to Vimeo to host their first-ever virtual town hall meeting for 3,000 attendees.

The result? Their live event got more employees to join in over a decade of in-person meetings.

We won’t return to how it was. Video isn’t a COVID-19 solution, it’s a modern solution for the new workplace.
Peter Strella, Director, Communications & Creative Media Services at Rite Aid

The growing global, remote, and generationally diverse workforce calls for a new workplace solution. Here’s the thing:

The solution is clear. Interactive town hall meetings facilitated by the right internal communications tools can have a positive effect on employee engagement. Not only do town halls align employees with your company’s strategies, but they also offer them a platform to ask questions and voice concerns.

If you want to plan a successful, engaging town hall meeting for your business, we can show you how. We’ll unpack what is a town hall meeting, dive into its purpose, the benefits, a 6-step action plan to organize your event, and important tips to make sure your event runs smoothly every time.

What is a townhall?

A town hall is a forum in which leaders can share context, decision-making thought processes, and relevant environmental factors to a wider audience. It’s also an opportunity for an audience to provide feedback and pose questions. A town hall is most effective when leaders genuinely seek to share objective information and hear authentic feedback. 

What does a town hall meeting look like in practice? Typically, these convenings are opportunities for leaders of an institution to give a report out on the state of things at the institution (hence why at Vimeo we call them the State of the Vimeo) and to speak to some of the most important topics that audience members (employees) care about. 

 A “Town Hall” by tradition assumes a two-way dialogue, which may not always be the case for a variety of reasons (i.e. time limitations, the amount of content to cover, sensitivity issues, audience relevance, etc.).

What is another word for town hall meeting?

Town hall meetings are often called all staff meetings, all hands meetings, and all hands on deck meetings. Some companies have internal names for these meets too. For example, Splash, an event marketing platform, refers to their town hall meetings as ‘town calls.’

Five benefits of a town hall

There are numerous benefits to conducting regularly recurring town hall meetings.

Whether you take more of a “state of a union” approach, where business leaders give a high level overview of key business messages, updates, and timelines or a more traditional town hall that focuses on engaging the audience with a live Q&A, here are some of the best reasons to start producing your next town hall.

Foster transparency

Ideally, town hall content is structured to be relevant to all in the audience, regardless of department, business, unit or location. This promotes transparency and improves flow of information across departments, teams, and individual roles.

Because employees receive an update on the business at the executive level, they also get valuable insights into the areas that aren’t always part of their day-to-day work.

Recognize and highlight teams and employees

Town halls are a great venue to shed light on different departments and teams doing great work. The benefits here are two-fold: first, employees and teams may be recognized for their contributions and second, teams who don’t normally interact are exposed to the priorities and successes of others.

Reinforce company culture

Executives can build up company confidence with high level updates, emphasizing company values, and reminding employees of programs, services, benefits, and initiatives that are available to them. In turn, this can reinforce important company values and foster company culture.

Build up executive communications

An employee may not regularly see or interact with executives on a day to day basis. Town halls offer a window into the dialogue and mindset of the organization’s leadership team. This can help humanize a leadership team, providing a face, voice, and personality to the names. And, in challenging times, it can remind employees that leaders are people, too.

Align teams and address important concerns

One of the values of a town hall Q&A is that executives can hear feedback directly from those whom they lead. The spontaneity of real-time Q&As and employee engagement allows executives to proactively address feedback before it’s fraught over or distorted. 

Communication isn’t only about saying one thing in one place. The most effective communication is reinforced over time, across channels, and in different formats so that it is accessible to all and available in any individual’s preferred channel.

How do you do a town hall meeting?

You can either host a physical gathering, a live stream, or pair both for your town hall gathering. Start with setting the agenda. Then go on to decide the format, select a date that suits everybody, and plan your meeting’s content. Don’t forget to send invites beforehand so everyone can block time for the event in their schedule.

How to run a town hall meeting

From planning your meeting’s flow to prepping the live stream set up, we’ve laid out the nitty-gritty details of hosting a town hall meeting that’s a smashing hit.

1. Select your venue and speakers

Start with the meeting agenda. Ask yourself: what topic(s) would you cover? Try to limit these to 2-3 so you can go deep, not broad, into each topic.

Settle on who’ll be speaking next. This should include your CEO, but also department or team heads so they can update everyone on the progress each area of the company is making.

Pro tip: Be inclusive in selecting speakers by getting camera-shy people on board as Ampersand does in their meetings.

“Some of the best people who are good at explaining an application aren’t necessarily the best people who are great in front of a live camera, so why take them out of the picture? We’re finding that the more that we pre-record our trainings, people are happier and less nervous about it.”
Seth Weingarten, VP of Network Operations at Ampersand.

Once done, work out a date for the meeting that suits everyone’s schedules and iron out the meeting’s structure and flow. For instance, settle on how long the CEO will speak, who’ll pass the mic to whom, and so on. This ensures everything goes smooth.

Lastly, decide your venue. If you’re conducting an in-person meeting, look for a place that’ll accommodate everyone. Pay special attention to seating. A theater-like arrangement sends the message that employees are going to be on the listening end. A close together, roundtable arrangement, in contrast, indicates attendees are welcome for participation.

On the other hand, if you plan to live stream your town hall meeting, you’ll need a space to accommodate all the hardware.  

Once you’ve checked off all these tasks from your list, start sending out invites. Make sure you mention the topic so employees can come prepared with their questions.

2. Set up your live stream

Planning a hybrid event or virtual town hall? Awesome! You’ll find the tips in this section helpful. Feel free to move on to the next step if you’re going to host an in-person event.

Benefits of live streaming town hall meetings

There are five main benefits live town hall meetings can help your company:

  • Better reach and connectivity across time zones as employees can join from their workspaces anywhere in the world. Even if they can’t make it on time, they can access the archived live stream at a later time. 
  • More ‘human’ with increased facetime with employees. Michael Weinstein, the Video Studio Lead at Deloitte Global points out, “when it’s live, you hear that person, you can communicate with them, and it really humanizes them as well.”
  • Real-time participation as you get staff to share their opinion and questions with live chat, polls and Q&A.
  • More content for various other purposes. For example, our client, Rite Aid, repurposes and reuses their live stream content for onboarding and training new employees.
  • Foster more engagement, collaboration, and peer-to-peer connections at work. A recent report from GlobalWebIndex and Vimeo found that video had a positive impact on employee engagement.
Data showing how video makes employees feel more engaged in comparison to employees who don't use video.
Source: GlobalWebIndex and Vimeo

 3-step blueprint for prepping your live event

Now that you know how beneficial live steaming town halls can be, you’ll need to prep your live setup. We have a detailed guide on how to stream your town hall meeting, but here’s a quick 3-step blueprint to get your started.

  • Prep your hardware

You’ll need a professional grade camera, microphone for the audio, and an AV cable to bring in the audio stream. Don’t forget an encoder to convert raw data into a viewable live stream and a switcher to go back and forth between various audio and video sources.

  • Get your software rolling

The right live streaming platform turns your computer into a live production studio. If you’re still in the market for a solution, we’ve got a few tips below on how to choose the right one for your business.

  • Test drive before your stream

Lastly, preview your stream to see everything’s in place. Make sure you check your internet speed to prevent your stream from buffering. Don’t forget to arrange a power backup. After all, you won’t want power to disrupt your meeting’s flow.

Four things to look for in your live streaming platform

👉 High quality live stream

There’s nothing more disruptive as a spotty stream. Look for a solution that provides professional live streaming tools to help you minimize technical hiccups.

Pro tip: Build company credibility by customizing your live town hall meetings and hosting them in a video library.

👉 Security with SSO

This is critical so you can control who in your company has access to the live event. Be sure to consider options that allow control with the SSO feature and domain whitelisting.

👉 Automatic archiving

A chief benefit of live events is that global teams can access the content. It’s important to pick a service that makes it easy for employees to access the event long after it’s finished.

👉 Easy to use

Not to mention, you want something that isn’t a tough nut to crack. Live streaming is hard enough so plan to use a platform that has an intuitive UI, branding options, and interactive tools to help you deliver an engaging live experience without the headache.

3. Draft your content

Here’s where you decide what to say. A successful town hall meeting packs in concise and intentional content. So a good starting point is creating an outline detailing what you want to cover.

With the key pointers on paper, flesh out each section, asking yourself: how can I deliver this information in a manner that motivates employees?

Here are four ways to do so:

  • Use data and customer case studies to tell stories. Instead of regurgitating a laundry list of numbers, be selective with the statistics you share. Use the problem-agitate-solve (PAS) technique: highlight the problem, rub it a bit, share results backed with 1-2 impactful numbers.
  • Leverage user generated content (in this case, customer or employee generated). Axalta Coating Systems, for example, shares content their users submit in the form of videos in their live town halls. “Because we have to certify our users, we have them submit videos to us as part of their certification,” says Steve Hamaday, Virtual Training Manager at Axalta.
  • Tap into employees’ emotions to engage them. As an example, the team at Buffer has a 10-min session on celebrations in their town halls where they cover company as well as employee achievements like new pets, marriages, new homes, and more.
  • Shake up your content’s format. Instead of running slide after slide in your presentation, add tutorials and recorded presentation clips. This way, you’ll be talking less, showing more – for example, demonstrating a new feature.

4. Prepare your presentation

Now to package all the information in a presentation.

It may sound easy, but creating engaging slides takes some effort. But we’re here to make it simple for you. Follow these tips for creating your presentation:

  • Aim to use no more than 10 slides to cover your topic in 20 minutes.
  • Write easy to read slides with minimal text. Also, use a legible font at 30 points size.
  • Diversify slides’ format. Aim to position only 5 text-heavy slides at a time. Break them with video tutorials, GIFs, and slides with graphs. Wherever possible, arrange content in 6 bullet points per slide containing 6 words per point.

5. Work out your engagement plan

Since the objective of a town hall meeting is to facilitate two-way conversations, it’s essential you don’t miss out on planning for engagement.

Here are a few ways to spark engagement:

Open the ground for questions early. In fact, you can start sourcing questions as early as sending out invites. It’s also a good idea to pause after every session as HelpScout does in their town hall meetings to let questions pour in before moving forward.

Engage your audience with polls and live chat throughout the meeting and a dedicated live Q&A session at the end. All the more better if you can make it anonymous. Some companies have found 78% employees prefer questioning anonymously. Vimeans ask questions anonymously, too. Vimeo COO, Courtney Sanchez, emphasizes the importance of a safe space for asking candid questions. “We believe in transparent dialogue and creating an environment where it feels safe to anyone to ask a question. We use anonymous Q&A tools, and employees can upvote and downvote the questions they feel are the most important that we answer.”

Plan icebreakers beforehand. Anything fun and light-hearted will help thaw the awkwardness. For example, the Buffer team has experimented with getting attendees to meditate and stretch together (a fun pose can get everyone laughing for sure!). Similarly, at Vimeo, we’ve had success with video get-togethers where everyone introduces their pets.

Need more ideas on how to engage your remote workforce?

Learn how leadership teams use video to virtually unite, align, and motivate multiple teams with town halls, training workshops, and more.

6. Plan for feedback

Without sourcing feedback, you can’t really tell how well you are bridging the communication gap with employees. 

So here are three helpful ways to gather feedback include:

  • Conduct anonymous polls and surveys. The former can inquire questions like ‘was this session helpful’ and the latter can dig deep, asking open-ended questions like ‘what did you enjoy the most,’ and ‘how do you think we can make this meeting better for you.’You can also leverage surveys to ask employees to rate their experience on a scale of 1-10.
  • Ask new employees for their thoughts on your town hall meeting. Ask them how they liked the event and if there’s something that their previous employers did better.
  • Look at your live stream analytics. Vimeo’s analytics dashboard helps you pull out stats on the watch time and total live viewers to understand who tuned in and how long the meeting engaged the staff.

Five tips for a successful town hall

Get alignment early

Work with leadership and the “frequent flyers” (those who typically present in these meetings) to align on the agenda, content, and outstanding speaker list as early as possible. 

The agenda should be decided at least 10 days in advance so that folks have enough time – at least five business days – to source/develop content, rehearse talking points and put the finishing touches on before show time.

Operate with the listeners in mind

Based on pulse checks, feedback, employee commentary, and FAQs, plan an agenda around what employees need and want to know. Prioritize your agenda based on topics that are most relevant to your high-level business objectives as well as topics that employees resurface over time. For example, you may want to talk about quarterly or yearly goals that are coming up while employees may also want more context in executive changes or decisions.

Remember that people have short attention spans. A meeting longer than 75 minutes can risk people dropping at the hour mark. 

Similarly, a meeting packed with content can disengage employees for two reasons. First, the attendees may only get the surface details of each topic. Second, they may not be able to discern what information to prioritize or what actions to take away from the meeting.

Strike a balance of providing the most relevant content, reiterate priorities, and provide clear next steps within the time frame you’ve allowed for your town hall.

Dot your I’s and cross your T’s

Town halls can have a lot of moving parts, which is compounded by the realities of virtual or hybrid work. To make things easier, develop a timeline and a checklist. 

A timeline will help you stay on top of planning and ensure you reach out to the right folks in a timely manner.

A checklist ensures bases are covered from technology, logistics, content, and communications. 

The checklist can contain: 

  • Name of producer
  • Name of tech support professional
  • Attendee invite details
  • Speaker prep details
  • Employee reminders and notifications
  • Slides or other event content

Be consistent but not monotonous

As a best practice, strive to have a consistent cadence for your town hall meetings. This helps set expectations by allowing attendees to not only plan around it, increasing their likelihood of attending, but also builds trust as employees know executives will provide important news on a regular basis.

As far as format, recurring meeting segments help build interest, trust, and reliability. For example at Vimeo, folks know that there will always be an update on the business of the business and there will always be a product spotlight – this helps build some level of interest and anticipation as these are things that (most) employees would hear about on a regular basis.

It’s equally important to surprise and delight employees. Give attendees a peek into something totally out of the ordinary, something that will excite and inspire.

Strive for accessibility and simplicity

Make it easy for employees to tune into the meeting itself. Generate one link and share it universally.

In addition: 

  • Ensure the audio is working
  • Turn on automatic closed captioning 
  • Make sure the speakers have name tags/names reflected
  • Record it and share the recording the same day of the event
  • If you hold the meeting on Vimeo, chapter key sections or movements to help attendees jump to segments relevant to them.

Wrap up: Reinventing town halls 

To recap, town hall meetings offer a great way to connect with employees – aligning them with your goals and answering questions they may have.

Aim to provide a transparent and open environment to encourage two-way communication between staff and leadership. Live video helps best with this as it personalizes meetings, encourages wide attendance, and improves engagement with features like live chat, polls, and Q&A sessions. Choose the right tools and see how live streaming can help transform your town halls today.

Download the guide

Originally published on December 5, 2019 by Emily Gover, edited on July 1, 2021 by Masooma Mamon, and on May 19, 2022 by Dominique Scott.