The ultimate guide to virtual townhalls

By Darian Mavandad
February 24, 2022
6 min read
Virtual Townhalls: IC

Earlier this month, IC’s experts shared their tips on how to productively run a hybrid meeting. But hybrid meetings are easier, as they are usually intimate, and everyone can get a chance to speak. The real challenge is the virtual townhall, where a limited number of speakers must entertain a company-wide audience who are all joining in over video call.

How do you make sure your workers are even paying attention? Should you force everyone to keep their cameras on (is that even viable in a large corporation, think of the GPU that needs!)? Or should you let workers work and listen while you talk in the background?

We’re guessing that if you are investing the time to plan, coordinate, and run a townhall you want your audience engaged and actually paying attention, so here is our ultimate guide to running a virtual town hall.

What IC learned from two years of virtual townhalls

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire team at IC went remote—and stayed that way. Yes, while we may miss seeing each other’s faces at 9am every morning (that sounds sarcastic, it really isn’t!), we have been just as productive—if not more—while working remotely. No more time lost in commutes, less exhaustion, being able to go from sleep to work in 5 minutes…we realized we were thriving.

But our culture is one built upon connection, it’s even in our name, so we wanted to make sure those connections could still be felt even when workers were physically far apart.

When we moved our morning companywide meetings virtual, we did so on a channel that allowed us to send funny animated GIFS and pictures so we could heighten interaction while continuing our practice of daily icebreakers (find our favorites here!).

For our townhalls, we did the exact same thing. We used fun images, graphics, and fun (fun!) pop quizzes to make sure everyone felt included during our newly virtual townhalls. And it was a monumental success. We are happy to say we feel even closer, and all the success we share in our townhalls is met with virtual “hoorays” in the form of GIFs, videos, and emojis!

Why do we even have townhalls (the history long before “virtual” was even a thing)

A question that takes us back to the start of U.S. history, townhalls began as a way for citizens and governments to dialogue about important issues, ask questions, and have a chance to debate. And they quickly spread throughout modern democracies, and into the corporate world—giving laborers a chance to question and debate factory executives about policies, work, and other concerns. The deeply populist practice gives everyone a seat at the table and a voice, from Presidents and CEOs to entry-level workers.

Virtual channels for a virtual townhall

Virtual channels to promote your virtual townhalls.

We believe that the most effective townhalls keep those populist ideals alive. While you should go in with an agenda, and a plan, do not fear informal chat—or teammates wanting to discuss an important issue that was not on the agenda. Let the conversation flow naturally, and be willing to field questions from all workers, regardless of department.

Tone is even harder to convey in a virtual townhall setting than it is in real life, so avoid any sarcasm or jokes that could make any team member feel like they’re being picked on or singled out, which could quickly derail your agenda and alienate workers.

Plan to spend about 5-10 minutes after each topic fielding questions, and, in cases where the question pool is a bit dry, plan a fun collaborative activity. A fun Kahoot quiz is a great way to use technology to bring your workers together and have some fun—and, as a bonus, based on the answers, you can see if your presentation was engaging and your audience was paying attention to what you were discussing.

And to make sure your audience has some time to think of what they’d like to ask you, share your townhall meeting virtually beforehand on your company intranet or channel of preference. This way there will be no surprises for your team, and they can really think of insightful and important questions they wish to have addressed during your townhall.

Leverage the power of live chat

Use live chats during your townhalls.

Allowing employees to ask their questions over chat can help overcome the barrier of entry that is speaking in front of the entire company. You may get more questions, and more engaging questions, by allowing the audience to pose questions in the chat as you are speaking. The only hurdle would be ensuring that every live question gets answered and none are missed, so we suggest having someone designated to monitoring chat questions and logging them, so presenters can circle back to them at the end and make sure everyone’s inquires get addressed.

Incentivize workers to join your virtual townhalls

Back in the hey-days of office life, a townhall may have been a good time to bring out free coffee and donuts for the workforce, but with remote work, that’s no longer viable.

Instead, find some creative ways to incentivize workers to join and stay engaged. Maybe you can pair the idea of the aforementioned Kahoot quiz with some small prizes (digital gift cards, perhaps), or let those in attendance leave a little early on that day. Your workforce is likely under a lot of stress, and Zoom fatigue is a real thing, so try to make the virtual townhall something that could lighten up the day instead of adding another item to the reasons they have a headache by 3pm.

Get employees feedback post-townhall

Best way to measure the success of your virtual townhall? Ask! Using internal comms software, send a quick poll to attendees asking them how they feel the town hall went. And don’t just ask for the sake of asking! Make sure to take your feedback and actually turn it into a plan for the next townhall, so your employees feel heard—and to make sure they continue to take future polls and surveys seriously.

Take your virtual townhalls to the next level with IC

Use our software, such as our intranet with multi-channel messaging capabilities to help organize and streamline your virtual townhalls. Book a free demo today—and be sure to take our free assessment tool to help find out which aspects of your internal comms strategy need some love.

By Darian Mavandad

Darian has a degree from McGill University, and joined IC to empower internal communicators by creating content that inspires. In his free time, he loves traveling, reading, and skiing.