What Are Virtual Town Hall Meetings?
Virtual town hall meetings are just one part of the full roster of virtual events. They can be thought of as large-scale broadcasting events where a limited number of speakers reach out to a large audience. If that sounds intimidating, you can reframe them as basically a super-sized webcast. What super-sized means can vary based on the organization hosting the event. But if the webcast is open to the whole of your community and stakeholders, it’s probably a town hall.
These town hall events have a range of purposes, including all-hands corporate meetings, addressing a student population spread out across multiple locations, and for appearances from high-profile guest speakers.
Virtual town hall meetings usually involve a limited number of presenters communicating with that previously mentioned large audience. This communication includes more than a video of the speaker – it’s important to make sure your virtual town hall isn’t all talking heads; presenting information through slides and pre-recorded video is a common feature.
Technical preparedness is always an important part of any virtual event, but it’s especially key when planning a virtual town hall meeting because of the scale of these events. Due to the large audience size, virtual town halls require network optimization. What’s that? A way to allow large numbers of attendees (think in the thousands — or hundreds of thousands!) to have a smooth, streamlined experience while viewing the event.
Virtual town hall meetings can be produced in a number of ways. Some organizations have in house teams and equipment already able to produce these types of virtual events. Others use high-end options from outside vendors and partners. These can include white glove services to help with production, multi-camera HD support, and streaming management. This allows you and your organization to stay focused on the content while knowing that your town hall is in good, technical hands. Additionally, some webcasting tools now allow speakers to actually launch a town hall webcast with all the bells and whistles directly from a laptop, mobile phone, or other personal devices, which is particularly helpful in the unusual circumstances the Coronavirus has created.
What Are the Benefits of Virtual Town Hall Meetings?
Virtual town hall meetings have many benefits for companies and their stakeholders, and this was true even long before we were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual town halls are a way to bring large organizations together without the expense – in time and money – of long-distance travel. That reduction in travel is also better for the environment and less disruptive to employees’ and their work/life . Town hall are also a particularly valuable way to bring people together when so many of us are now working from home.
Virtual town hall meetings also provide a format for recognizing top performers, making sure everyone is on the same page regarding new initiatives, and giving employees access to C-suite executives. They are a way to display, enhance, and spread your corporate culture and reinforce your collective . Schools and universities can use virtual town halls to bring the student body and faculty together for occasions like first day of term, graduation, founder’s celebrations, community announcements, parents’ forums, and more. For governments, virtual town halls create a new way to connect with the community and constituents.
Fifteen Tips For Holding a Successful Virtual Town Hall Meeting
When designing your virtual town hall meeting, it’s important to approach planning the event as a multi-step process. The choices you make before, during, and after your town hall are all key to having a well-executed event that meets and exceeds your goals.
Before Your Town Hall Event
- If you’ve just started planning your virtual town hall meeting, it’s important to choose a platform for your event that will allow you to meet your goals. Look for a virtual event platform that can accommodate a large number of users and provide smooth, high-quality video on both desktop and mobile devices. In this era of working at home and on the go, people will be connecting to your event in lots of different ways. You’ll want to ensure that everyone has a great experience in terms of audio, video, and connectivity.
- Keep time zones and international norms in mind. Try to select at day and time for your virtual event that falls within the normal working day of as many of your employees as possible. Be sure you’re not inadvertently scheduling your event for a major holiday for many of your stakeholders. If you’re an international organization, remember that the work week isn’t Monday to Friday everywhere in the world. And don’t forget about time zones! No one wants to have to show up to a corporate event at 2AM, even if they can do it from . For multinational corporations, the solution may be to have more than one town hall event, and it’s critical to make the proceedings available through video-on-demand for anyone who isn’t able to join live.
- Once you’ve set the date for your virtual town hall, it’s time to get people excited about their attendance and participation. Be sure to send out a save-the-date email as early as possibly so people can arrange their schedules if needed to attend. And don’t forget to promote the event regularly through relevant channels, including social media. Consider including a survey with event registration that will allow you to gauge what information attendees are hoping to receive and what their mood is going into the . This is also a great opportunity to start preparing for the Q&A part of your virtual town hall, by soliciting questions from attendees. Getting questions in advance will also allow you to have fantastic answers ready to go once you’re live.
- Plan your town hall meeting agenda in advance. No matter the specifics of your town hall, be sure to use the event to impart information, help your stakeholders feel more engaged, and to celebrate achievements. Celebrating achievements, especially if the town hall event is also being held to discuss challenges, can be particularly important.
- Make sure you assign key roles in your event. This means more than choosing featured speakers and assigning producers to get everything organized behind the scenes. You’ll also need a moderation team to handle the Q&A portion of your presentation to and watch the chat window as your speakers present. Moderation is an art-form in and of itself, so your team may want to check out these tips for successful management of this aspect of your virtual town hall.
- Practice, practice, practice. Not only do you need to have a technical run-through to make sure your virtual town hall proceeds as planned, your presenters will need to practice their material as they plan to deliver it. Your moderators will also need to practice how they plan to navigate the event. In addition to separate practice sessions to deal with both the technical and human elements of your event, a dress rehearsal that combines everything as if it were live can help your actual town hall run more .
During Your Town Hall Event
- Town halls can be overwhelming and keeping users engaged needs to be a high priority. There are many ways to do this including varying your speakers and offering compelling visual content. But one of your most powerful tools is interactivity. Even in the one-to-many style of a virtual town hall meeting, elements like quizzes, chat rooms, and moderated question and answer sessions can help your audience stay focused and feel included.
- Make sure to keep an eye on your real-time analytics. This will help you understand how your audience is responding to your presentation through attendance levels and participation in interactive features, allowing you to pivot on the fly.
- For long events, make sure you plan breaks so that attendees don’t have to miss any key content to refresh themselves. Breaks aren’t just kind to your attendees, they’re kind to you, the organizer. And they help and allow everyone stay more focused. How frequently should you space breaks? One way to plan when to break is to go back to those analytics and interactive features; your audience can tell you when they need to stretch!
- Expect the unexpected, especially in this era of COVID-19 and widespread working from home. While we all work hard to meticulously plan and execute our virtual events – and especially town hall meetings – the reality is that sometimes things don’t go as planned. Moderators can also be a key part of helping your event go smoothly. They’ll need to have practiced how they work together in advance and have a plan for how to decide which questions get answered on air. How they and the production team will manage any accidental dead air should also be addressed during any rehearsals. These strategies, combined with maintaining your sense of humor and being prepared to improvise can turn difficult moments into memorable
After Your Town Hall Event
- your event was live, that doesn’t mean it’s not still an important resource for your organization. Use the recording of your virtual town hall event for further communication. From providing it to people who missed the event using video on demand (VOD) to using pieces of it in new video collateral, don’t forget that your virtual town hall meeting continues to provide value even after the event is over. If this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. With the right video platform, you can have your virtual town hall recorded and automatically converted to VOD, so you won’t have to deal with processing after the fact. This will also allow you to have the VOD version of your town hall event at the same URL as the live presentation, so people don’t have to go hunting for the recording if there’s information they want to review.
- Consider having smaller virtual meeting follow-ups for departments, working groups, or regional offices to dive into the specifics of the content presented at your virtual town hall meeting. This will allow working teams to further strategize action in response to the information delivered at the town hall.
- Virtual town hall events can also be followed up with video-based email, which can highlight the key points of the virtual town hall presentation, reinforce action items, and provide another personal connection between staff and corporate leadership.
- Follow-up with your attendees and get feedback on your virtual town hall meeting. Just as a pre-event survey can help you craft a great presentation; a post-event survey can help you tailor ongoing event response and be invaluable as you design future events.
- While town hall events are sometimes responses to unusual circumstances, consider holding them regularly. This gives your stakeholders something to expect and it gives your organization a known cycle of preparation, making your future events even.
If you’re already in the process of planning a virtual town hall, we hope these tips help you make your event even better. If you’re embarking on the adventure of hosting a virtual town hall meeting for the first time, you’re about to have an incredible adventure, all without having to leave your desk.
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