The Ultimate Guide to Holding Better Virtual Town Hall Meetings in 2021

Cassy Aite
July 15, 2021
The Ultimate Guide to Holding Better Virtual Town Hall Meetings in 2021

Town hall meetings or all-hands meetings are a regular fixture at most organizations. It is one of the most effective ways to share company updates and promote a dialog between leadership and staff. However, like most company events, town halls have also gone virtual since COVID-19.

With employees working from home for nearly a year now, organizational alignment is critical. And while most organizations have been hosting virtual town halls on a weekly or monthly basis, engagement rates continue to be a cause of concern.

Constantly being on video calls has led to Zoom fatigue – employees just don’t engage with virtual meetings the way they used to. Additionally, the long monologues during virtual town halls do not help.

This in-depth guide offers steps, frameworks, and ideas to help you supercharge your virtual town halls.

How Often Should I do a Virtual Town Hall?

We recommend doing your virtual town hall either weekly or monthly. Ultimately it will depend on a few things:

  • Size of company; for large companies communication is harder and it is important to repeat things many times over. However, it can also be expensive to have 100’s or 1000’s of employees join an hour long weekly meeting. Make sure the agenda is well thought out and valuable.
  • Speed of company; if your company is going through a period of rapid change or growing extremely fast we recommend doing town hall meetings weekly. This way team members get updates more frequently and the company can move faster.
  • Time of year; if your company has a lot of seasonality it may not make sense to have town hall meetings during slow periods. For very busy times of the year we recommend doing weekly meetings with short daily updates in short written bullet form.
A screenshot of a calendar schedule for a weekly show and tell activity

Which Day and Time to do a Virtual Town Hall?

Ultimately, it’s best to host the town hall when the majority of your company is available. Try sending a poll with several options for people to choose from. Here are a few options we recommend after talking to 1000’s of high performing companies:

  • Friday at 4pm: this is one of the most common times to host a virtual town hall and is a nice way to end the week. However, many remote employees may not be able to attend at this time (especially if they need to pick up their kids from school).
  • Thursday at 4pm: this is a great time to host the town hall as it gives people a chance to finish the week without feeling overwhelmed on Fridays. 
  • Thursday at noon: At Hoppier this is when we do our virtual town hall. We found it was the best choice for team members with kids and allowing people to 
  • Monday at noon: This is an interesting choice because it allows teams to focus more on what they are going to do in the upcoming week rather than what happened.

How to Plan a Virtual Town Hall Meeting

Here is a step-by-step breakdown for how you can plan virtual town hall meetings:

1. Pre-Planning Considerations

A virtual town hall meeting can eat up a significant part of the workday, so you want to ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible. Here are our four tips on getting started:

  • Decide the Technology: Shortlist the set of applications you will use to stream the virtual town hall meeting. Ideally, you want a video conferencing app, screen sharing software, chat messenger app, and a poll app. Platforms like Hopin, Livestorm, Brightcove, Microsoft Stream, and Pigeonhole Live condense all these features in a single suite.
  • Take the Headcount: Find out the exact number of employees who’ll be attending the meeting. This will allow you to plan the agenda and any team-building sessions accordingly.
  • Be Mindful of Different Time Zones: If your organization has a distributed team across multiple countries, pick a time that works for everyone and/or record the meeting.
  • Build a Team: It helps to have a moderator or MC and tech personnel during the session. The moderator will queue in employee questions and facilitate the session. The IT staff will ensure that all your employees can participate without any issues.

2. Define the Meeting Objective

Every town hall meeting should have a key objective. The objective defines the purpose of the meeting.

  • Have you recently released any new product features?
  • What are the monthly or quarterly sales updates?
  • Is the company going through a pivot?

The objective helps you prepare the agenda, the presentation, and decide who will speak at the meeting. For example, if the company is set to change its strategic direction, the CEO would most likely be the best person to lead the session. On the other hand, sales growth updates will be shared by the top-level sales executives.

Apart from these specific goals, you can also focus on “softer” goals like motivating employees and building trust.

3. Plan the Meeting Agenda

With the key objective(s) in mind, chalk out the topics that management will discuss during the meeting. Rather than including an overwhelming number of themes, pick a handful of topics that complement the objective.

An image of a sample townhall agenda with session times, topics and presenters
Share your virtual town hall agenda with team members in advance to improve engagement | Source: Expert Program Management

Also, it’s always helpful to have functional leaders’ and managers’ inputs on key issues as they’re more likely to have a better understanding of what’s on employees’ minds.

An example virtual town hall meeting agenda could look like this:

  • Introduction and icebreakers: 10 minutes
  • A quick update on sales and marketing results: 5 minutes
  • Key product features launching this week or month and where to learn more about them: 15 minutes
  • Q&A session or share periodic ‘Wins & Losses’: 20 minutes
  • Monthly celebrations: 10 minutes

4. Prepare Your Content

Keep your presentation crisp. Don't reference past information that employees are already aware of; instead, focus more on what is going to be helpful for them. Strip the language/concept down to its bare bones so that everyone on the team gets it. To simplify a complex topic, invite a subject matter expert or the department head from the respective team to speak with you.

Encourage the attendees to ask questions. You can work with the moderator to create a series of questions or polls.

Use video, audio, and images to make your content compelling and memorable.

5. Send Meeting Invitations to the Employees

Let your employees know about the town hall meeting via calendar invitation, email, and a messaging app like Slack or Microsoft Teams. You can also set a recurring calendar invitation. The calendar invitation should ideally contain the following:

  • Agenda: The meeting itinerary should answer questions like the date and time, meeting objectives, who will lead the meeting, speaker line-up, team building activities, etc.
  • Meeting Rules: Virtual meetings can get chaotic and difficult to manage as the number of attendees increases. Lay clear ground rules on the start time, muting the mic when not speaking, and how or when to ask questions during the session.
  • FAQs: This section should answer questions such as how to join the meeting, use the meeting software app, troubleshoot basic technical errors, who to contact for technical support, and so on. You can create an internal wiki page for this and link it in the calendar invitation so that it’s easy to refer to.

6. Invite Questions In Advance

Ask your employees to send questions in advance. The presenter ideally covers these questions during the presentation so that the Q&A session is open for impromptu participation.

7. Perform a Technical Dry Run

On the day of the meeting, set up the meeting software, chat app, and event tools. Perform a thorough tech check before starting the session. Check if the software, connectivity, and equipment are working properly. Develop a plan B for potential technical errors and minimize disruption.

8. Welcome Your Attendees

It’s a challenge to keep the audience engaged in virtual meetings. Therefore, acknowledge your employees when they join in with a shout out. Virtual icebreakers are a great way to welcome them.

During the session, let them voice their opinions without any hesitation. Involve them in the session through polls, questions, and feedback to make future virtual town hall meetings more engaging and informative.

9. Send a Recap

Record the town hall meeting and make it accessible for everyone in the organization. Not everyone can make it to these meetings.  Along with the recording, send the meeting minutes to share a glimpse of what discussions took place during the session. We recommend setting up a page to host all past recordings and minutes using Notion and one of their templates.

Also, ask for post-meeting feedback in a poll to learn what employees feel about the topics and the virtual town hall experience. You can ask a question confirming their understanding of a topic discussed or general feedback. We recommend always asking 3 simple questions; what did you enjoy?, what did you dislike?, what could have been improved? Take this info and analyze how you can improve future meetings or followup. 

10 Ideas to Make Your Virtual Town Hall Meetings More Engaging

A screenshot of a virtual town hall meeting in session
Source: MIT News

The lack of face-to-face interaction can make virtual town hall meetings boring. Add experiential elements to your town hall to make them more engaging. Here are ten ways you can make your meetings more interesting and memorable for your attendees:

1. Make Your Icebreakers Better

Some of the conventional icebreakers for virtual meetings include emoji check-ins, or asking a fun random question (like, is cereal soup? Why or why not?). You can also get to know new employees via two truths and a lie and rapid-fire.

2. Create an Exclusive Talk Space (Channel) for the Meeting

Not everyone can speak during the meeting, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the session. For instance, if you are using Slack, create a channel exclusively for town hall meeting discussions.

A screenshot of Slack's dedicated talk space (channel)
A dedicated talk space can help you consolidate all your questions in one place

If you aren't using a consolidated virtual meeting platform, these talk spaces or groups can centralize all the town hall-related discussions. Attendees can share key takeaways, pose questions, or simply drop emojis to share an emotion.

3. Food and Drinks, Anyone?

A great way to get people engaged is for them to have food and drinks. You can use Hoppier as an easy way to send a virtual credit card that can be restricted to purchasing from food delivery apps and local restaurants around the world..

A screenshot of Hoppier card for onboarding lunch
Use Hoppier to improve your town hall experience with a wide range of food and beverage options

4. Monthly Rewards and Holiday Allowances

Reward top performers with a Hoppier card when you are celebrating monthly wins. You can also share the cards with employees celebrating their birthdays.

Similarly, when it comes to holidays, you can allocate a budget for each employee to order food, beverages, gifts, and more.

American entrepreneur, investor, and podcaster, Tim Ferriss asks his guests about their most impactful purchases under $100. You can ask employees to spend a certain amount of allowance to purchase important things. You can discuss these purchases and the rationale behind them during the team-building session to learn more about your employees’ personal goals and aspirations.

A screenshot of Hoppier's virtual credit card for birthday celebrations
Choose from a wide range of personalized holiday rewards and allowances to celebrate employees

5. Use Atlassian’s My User Manual to Know New Employees

Everyone has a different way of working. Some prefer to riff things over a phone call, while others may prefer email. Knowing how one works helps teams work productively. This is why Atlassian (parent company of tools like Trello and Jira) has created My User Manual to let employees communicate their working styles.

So, during each all-hands meeting, you can invite new employees to share their manual with the team (for smaller teams). Working in a distributed team doesn’t provide enough opportunities to get to know your teammates really well. Therefore, the user manual can address the following aspects:

  • Working hours (including time zone)
  • Preferred communication mediums
  • Tools and technologies I need
  • My learning style
  • How I like to give and receive feedback

6. Celebrate Virtual Birthdays

If you work in a large team, it’s easier to celebrate birthdays once a month when working virtually. Apart from the Hoppier cards, the company can deliver cakes to birthday honorees. Play virtual party games such as a scavenger hunt or birthday trivia about that employee.

7. Host Virtual Trivia

Wrap up your virtual town hall with games like virtual trivia to improve the particpation experience

Virtual team trivia is a fun game to engage teams through healthy competition. In team trivia, employees are grouped into multiple teams. Based on consensus, you can pick the category for the game, such as music, movies, genres, TV shows, sitcoms, and sports. Besides the typical trivia-esque questions, you can make the session more interesting by using rich media. Here are a few examples of interesting trivia questions:

  • Guess 5 second song clip
  • Complete the song lyrics
  • Guess the movie by its dialog or complete the dialog

Apart from tools like Typeform or SurveyMonkey, you can try apps like TriviaMaker or QuizWitz to design the trivia.

8. Curated Online Tasting Sessions

Online cheese, wine, coffee, or chocolate tasting sessions are led by respective experts that guide you through the tasting process. You can send employees a Hoppier card and an ingredient list before the meeting to make a 007 James Bond martini or assorted cheese/wine/coffee/chocolates along with notes and recommended food pairings.

A screenshot of Hoppier's virtual wine mixer activity card
Amp up the fun quotient of your virtual town hall with curated tasting experiences from Hoppier

During the tasting session, an expert will discuss how these items are prepared, how to taste them, and how to develop a taste for them. The expert or your moderator can also host a few fun games around the tasting experience to make it more memorable.

9. Cooking Challenges and Workshops

For cooking challenges, let your team members choose ingredients and prepare a dish with those ingredients. Reward team members that come up with the most creative entry.

Another way you can include cooking in your sessions is through workshops. Although these sessions usually run for more than an hour, these workshops can improve team dynamics. You can plan a quarterly workshop and get the ingredients delivered. A professional chef or an expert can guide employees through the preparation.

10. Schedule Live Performances

Performances can transform the virtual meeting experience. Work with a local performer or talent agency that will do the heavy lifting for you. Whether you want a musician, magician, stand-up comedy, or some other form of live entertainment. The added benefit of these performances is that you can also plan for a virtual meet and greet where the artist interacts with employees one-on-one.

Another way to go about live performances is an open mic session. Encourage team members to let their inner artist shine during the open mic. Allocate 5-10 minutes for each performer to perform a song, an acoustic set, a stand-up bit, or recite poetry. Open-mic sessions allow team members to showcase their hidden talents.

Deconstructing the Virtual Town Hall

Regardless of whether you plan to begin hosting virtual town halls or have been holding them regularly, structuring these meetings is key to better engagement and outcomes. We’ve explained each step briefly here:

1. Kick-Off the Meeting With Some Icebreakers

Start the meeting with some light banter and fun. As the leader or head of HR, the first few minutes will help you connect with your remote team on a personal level. Icebreakers are great to set the mood for the meeting – particularly town halls, where you want your employees to feel comfortable sharing and contributing.

A screenshot of a virtual ice breaker session with participants sketching on a virtual whiteboard
Source: Sli.do

You can spend ten minutes warming up – take a quick mood poll (anonymous survey), run a Zoom background challenge, or do a home treasure hunt to get everyone involved.

2. Shop Talk

Next come the company and business updates. At most organizations, it’s the CEO who kicks-off the meeting and delivers important company updates. While hearing your leader speak is motivating, having them speak for the entire virtual town hall duration can quickly become boring.

Employees want to feel included in the meeting, and having their managers/bosses/leaders represent them and talk about their work is a great way to accomplish that. Invite project leads, line managers, and other leaders to get involved in planning and delivering your town hall meeting.

You might also want to consider having a professional MC host the meeting. This will ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute to the meeting, is engaged, and the meeting follows a structure. This session is usually longer and takes up about 70% of the entire meeting duration. It can for up to 20-40 minutes.

3. Celebrations and Team Building

A screen showing virtual work anniversary celebrations
Source: Sli.do

Once you’ve wrapped up the formal sessions, you can then focus on celebrating employee achievements. Celebrating work anniversaries, client wins, and even short awards ceremonies will promote a sense of belonging and develop a high-performance culture. How you celebrate your employees and show your appreciation is completely up to you. Hoppier’s virtual cards makes it easy to provide virtual rewards and show appreciation to your employees.

Next, incorporate some team-building activities or create breakout teams to let employees connect with each other.

Over to You

Virtual town hall meetings are not just about company updates; they’re also an effective platform for recognizing and celebrating employee achievements. The lack of in-person interaction can make the virtual town hall meetings dull and boring. Use the step-by-step activities listed above to plan an engaging virtual town hall meeting and experiment with ideas to make your sessions more interactive and experiential.


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