Wednesday, February 13, 2013

22 Tips for Town Halls in Tough Times - PART 1

Posted by: Dave Hebert, Feb. 13, 2013

Open discussions between the leaders and employees of an organization are an excellent way to address concerns about, say, a looming budget crisis. Such a crisis — and the precepts of smart government — would dictate, however, that you don’t spend a fortune on travel, tech, and venue to have such a discussion.

Well, you don’t have to. Town hall meetings can be complicated, but with some smart planning, they can be cheap and (relatively) low-stress affairs.

What are these people thinking?

An issue that requires this sort of discussion is often right in your face. Often it’s not — you might have to dig to see what’s looming beneath the surface of your organization’s culture. Polling is a great way to do that.

You can refer to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for a generalized take on what is and isn’t working for your workforce.

You can also set up your own polling, whether open on the intranet or randomly sampled via email, asking how interested people are in having a discussion with senior leaders on a given topic and how well informed people already feel about that topic.

And take stock of the rumors you hear, the blog comments you see, the complaint emails you get, the topics being debated among senior leaders. These are great leads for topics.

When do I do this? 1 month or more ahead of the event
What does it cost? $0 to less than $500 for a SurveyMonkey annual license or similar that you can use for other polling efforts

Who’s in charge here?

You know what you want to talk about — now, who’s doing the talking? Identify subject matter experts who have a full grasp of the issues at hand and people who are/should be champions on these issues (one person could be both). Find the right mix, and consider the ideal speaking arrangement: single presenter, expert panel, etc..

You’ll also need a host who can engage the audience, moderate questions, and keep things on topic and on time.

When do I do this?
1 month or more ahead of the event
What does it cost? $0, unless you’ve got to pay someone to talk

What are you talking about?

Get your champions/experts together before the event to arrange who will cover what and what the consensus messages will be. Your event will be made or broken on whether you get this part right. Also determine if you need presentations or if you’ll jump right into Q&A. Presentations help set context, but you don’t want to turn a town hall into a lecture. Limit presenting to no more than a third of the total event time.

When do I do this? 2 weeks to 1 month ahead of the event;
What does it cost? $0

Read Part 2 of this post tomorrow, for information on:
  • How does this thing work? - arranging logistics 
  • Is this thing on? - checking the venue, technology, and other arrangements
  • Can you throw me a bone here? - ensuring success with actions before and after the event

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