Only people who set up large employee meetings — all-hands, town halls, division meetings or department gatherings — know how nerve racking they are. They require a lot of time planning, preparing, executing and following up. Multiple teams are often working together taking time away from other priorities to ensure they happen perfectly. Depending on the scope of the meeting and where they’re held, employee meetings can also be expensive.
Meetings have mishaps, too. They tend to be rife with scheduling conflicts. Often the teams working on them are concerned about agenda battles, enough time to cover everything, technology issues, logistics fiascos and speaker challengers.
ElevatePoint has a few ideas on how you can make your employee meetings successful. Because there are a lot of ideas, we’ll break them up, first covering what to do before the meeting — including planning and preparation. In a following blog post, we’ll cover employee meetings execution and follow up.
Why have employee meetings?
If employee meetings cause strife, consternation, money and extra work, why have them? Meetings inform and engage, giving more information about important topics. It’s a time for employees to connect and network. There’s interaction, where employees can ask questions and provide feedback. Executives can listen to employees. Employees can even hear directly from the top executives, even get to know them.
Even if employees are remote, they can see and hear for themselves through video what’s important.
For communicators, employee meetings can live on for posterity. When referencing initiatives, projects or goals, communicators can clip portions of the all employee meeting video as reinforcement. Communicators can add it to various intranet pages and use quotes in emails to employees.
Although employee meetings shouldn’t be undertaken frivolously, they are often the best way to communicate company information such as strategy, direction, big changes and goals.
Before you start your employee meeting agenda, know why you’re having the meeting. Determine the purpose or objective of employee meetings. As part of understanding the objective, discern what do you want employees to know or do after the meeting is over.
After you’ve determined your employee meeting purpose, gather your team to decide the agenda. Shop that agenda around with the objective. Go beyond executives. Solicit feedback from leaders (both managers and individual contributors) in your company. Ask Human Resource (HR) employees, too.
Unless you have something specific to discuss, typical agendas can include:
- Company strategy, direction, goals, initiatives and progress of these
- Success and brand stories – why employees should feel good about working there
- What employees can do about goals and initiatives
- Networking – leave time for employees to gather and talk
Although we’ll cover it more in format, a portion of your meeting should be interactive. Great speakers usually aren’t just lecturing, they’re involving their audience. The same should hold true for your executives and leaders speaking at employee meetings. They should engage your employees.
Lastly, consider timing. Employees can make it through an hour-long meeting, but it’s harder for them to stay engaged for a two-hour meeting.
The agenda and purpose of your company meeting should decide the format. For example, if you want it to be highly interactive because you have a big change initiative, consider town hall or breaking the meeting up into departments or even smaller teams. Yes, it’s more work, but participation will be better. And the participation is your goal.
Although it’s more of a challenge to add speakers, it varies the cadence of employee meetings. Executives don’t have to be on-stage alone. They benefit when they choose employees to stand and present beside them. It’s recognition for those leaders and it varies the speakers; this is especially important for your more challenged speakers.
Even if you want your executives to present information, consider how to make it more of a two-way conversation. Meetings that are two-way conversations increase engagement and understanding of the info. Execs will even know what employees are thinking about. Leave time for questions and answers, and stand firm those happen — cutting other things if needed. Include opportunities for employees ideas and questions – either in breakout groups or as a whole.
Don’t forget about those remote workers! Use social on your intranet to engage with them during the meeting, moderate comments and solicit questions.
The clincher is doing something with that data after your employee meeting; make it useful.
Along with the format, put it on video. Live stream if you can for the people who want to be there, such as remote employees and those staying at home, sick. The best way to ensure people have access is to put the live streaming up on your intranet.
There are also people in your organization who may need to miss the meeting for work reasons, such as your customer service personnel. Make sure a copy will be on your intranet and available after the meeting is over.
Once you know the format, you’ll know how big of a room to book. Going internal is always preferable, but you may need to rent space outside your company.
Think about the company’s brand when you rent that space. For example, if the organization is innovative, consider a trendy independent movie theater. And if it’s heavily involved with the community, consider paying for space with one of your biggest partners.
The bigger the space, the harder it may be to get into.
Things you’ll need:
- Enough chairs for everyone, including your speakers
- Easy access and enough bathrooms, including disabled-accessible bathrooms
- Potentially a green room where speakers can gather
- Liability insurance from the space provider, in case someone hurts themselves at their facility
- Potentially food and drinks
- Space for video equipment
- Time for you to practice
- Liaisons to help you should you need something the day-of, including walk-through the space with you ahead of time for employee-flow information, etc.
Tentatively get a few times and dates if you can and then bring those to department heads. They’ll know which may be busy work times and which won’t.
When it comes to technology, most Communications teams get nervous about how to introduce it in a large employee meeting. Don’t be afraid. Chances are even if your IT team is unavailable, they can provide ideas and tips. Consider a cost-analysis with IT to determine which one is less expensive — time and resources — given everything you need.
IT or vendor
Some IT departments, specifically Help Desk employees, would jump at the chance to help with your meeting. Talk with the manager in charge of the Help Desk to get a reading. If they’re eager, discuss your needs with them, including back-ups; what happens if equipment goes out or one employee becomes unavailable. (It happens, even when there’s excessive testing and high commitment!) As long as IT understands they’re on the hook for equipment and setup, you can probably leave it at that.
If your IT teams seem to think this would be a form of torture or can’t handle the request, you can always hire assistance. Involve IT to pick a vendor. Ideally, this vendor would have all the equipment you need, including backups. Ask someone technically-minded on your team to shadow them.
Whether it’s your IT team or your vendor, equipment you may need includes:
- Audio mixing
- Thumb drives with backup copies of the presentation
- Projector, screen for presentations
- Video equipment
For live streaming video, make sure your IT and communications teams are working with your vendor for testing.
Ensure you have time to do everything so you feel confident about it. In fact, if you had to hire a vendor, ask them to be there, too. If you can’t get everyone speaking to participate in a practice session, you may want to set up individual coaching sessions or ask them to come early to the all-employee meeting.
If you’ve farmed out presentations to be completed, you’ll want them to be branded, spelled correctly and accurate. Your team can even jazz some up. Set a review schedule and the expectation your team will be reviewing those slides.
Also, use project management best practices and give yourself some wiggle room.
If your meeting is a town hall or has breakout sessions, you may need paper and pencils available. Have a running list that you can print off before the meeting to gather everything you need.
Make sure people who are speaking at the employee meeting know the expectations! (Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.) Depending on how large the meeting is, you may also want additional people to help out. Seek out volunteers, turning first to your HR department, and make assignments on your team:
- Ushers to ensure people know where to go
- Runners backstage and elsewhere to get last minute things needed
- Shadows for your technical support, getting them things they may need
- People monitoring your intranet and external social media
More than just your banner or signage hanging up, what makes your organization unique? Bring those values and brand into everything from the attitude of the meeting to the music you play before and after the meeting and what your ushers and other personnel wear. Giving it the right brand may even include what you give to employees. A great example — at one company, to kick off a new brand, everyone received a kit and a cookie with the new brand. It generated excitement and enthusiasm.
You sent out an email invite, you asked managers to discuss it with employees, but that’s not enough. You need advertising.
Usually, the following ideas are standards — no-brainers — on where to advertise employee meetings. As you promote them, one of the most important things to provide is: why is the meeting needed? If you have a cost-cutting initiative, consider justifying the expense as part of your communications.
- Your intranet’s home page
- Company news articles about what to expect and why it’s needed
- Reminder emails sent; you’ll need at least one
- An executive department head email about how the meeting will apply to them
- Automated phone calls made to employees’ desk phones
Get creative if you can about promotion. Here are a few more innovative ideas to rev up enthusiasm.
- Conduct quizzes and give out small prizes if people know agenda topics, date, time and location
- Hang a few well-placed posters
- Send postcards to employees’ homes, although watch out for costs
- Engage your ambassador squad to communicate
- Ask for employee comments on your intranet site, encouraging a two-way conversation that your team moderates before the meeting
If the meeting is off-site, you may want to either reimburse for mileage or rent buses to shuttle people around. Shuttling may ensure additional liability costs as would asking employees to get there on their own. Obviously, build this travel time into the total time of the meeting and make instructions and when to leave clear. If traffic happens in your area — which area doesn’t it happen in these days? — you may want to give even more time.
Keep watching for an upcoming blog about what to do during the meeting. In the meantime, if you have thoughts, ideas, tips, questions or even horror stories, feel free to share them with us in the comments section.