I was watching the news last week that featured clips of the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, ‘performing’ at a series of Town Hall meetings he was conducting across the country. He did well.
But these meetings were pretty-well scripted. There was one central issue that drove the effort (pipeline expansion) but the PM took questions on any topic. And for the purpose it was meant to serve, I give a nod to this communication tool. But that’s all I will give it.
I hate the Town Hall Meeting. It is miss-used, abused and offered as a great communications tool by far too many leaders.
The key to great communication, as I have written about many times before, is to understand your audience and to tell them what they need to know in the right format and at the right time.
In the PM’s case, the real audience was the Canadian public and they needed to see him respond to a series of critical questions about a critical issue in a format that looked semi-natural. And they got exactly that.
Most of us have seen our leaders stand in front of the whole company or division and make a big announcement with an offer of an open Q&A period right afterwards. And it does not work.
The town hall tool has two components: the announcement or speech and the Q&A afterwards.
Today’s organizations do not need a townhall meeting to be able to see the CEO announce a big merger. Use video! It’s easier, less expensive than hauling everyone out of their cubicle or office and it’s a very comfortable medium for most of our employees.
The Q&A section? Honestly, who is going to ask a question – unless its planted? No one. This is the reason you should never use it – unless you are the Prime Minister of Canada.
So, what can you do instead? After the video, how do we get the dialogue going?
My suggestion is to take the event down to a size that is manageable and most comfortable for the audience – right after the main event. It’s all about them. Not you. Let the CEO make the announcement, via video, and then hold meetings with small groups and NOT with the CEO. The questions and conversation will come a lot easier for everyone.
If this series of meetings spurs issues and/or new points of interest, maybe the CEO gets back in front of the camera and provides a short update, sharing new found content.
The audience wants to hear the news in a timely matter. Make that happen as efficiently as possible. Then they want to ask questions and get into a discussion. And that is only going to happen in small groups.
Please stop using the town hall meeting!