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Internal Communication 101: Make Your Meetings Effective

The all hands myth in office meetings

“Let’s announce this at the all hands call next Friday,” directs Anton, the Global Head Of Finance.  

“Trudy can you and the comms team pull something together by Tuesday? Is there any chance of getting a customer to say something? Oh, and let’s get Mark from marketing to do 10 minutes on the new campaign.”

“Is there a theme or specific area of focus you want to cover?” asks Trudy, tentatively.

“The main thing is the new acquisition, some people will be freaking out about their jobs of course, and let’s also do a bit on last quarter’s performance, the update on the restructure and how we are doing on Zeus, the transformation program. Allow for 10 minutes of Q&A at the end. Thanks, everybody.”

All hands calls, also known as town hall meetings, see that gathering of the troops. The ‘all hands on deck’ event, where the executives talk to the gathered throng about what is going on.

The example above, is, sadly, not uncommon in internal communication.

Most leaders try and make the all hands meeting more relevant, engaging, and valuable than the scenario described. However, we have seen situations across the world where the office all hands meeting was a wasted opportunity, or worse, left employees more confused and anxious.

It is a common myth is that the all hands communicate clearly what is going on, and everyone attending will leave feeling informed, inspired, and encouraged. Some companies do this very well in their office meetings. Here I am thinking of Zoom (as they should), Hubspot, Pixar, LinkedIn, and Atlassian.

An effective all hands meeting takes work. 

Why does internal communication matter?

Many employees arrive at all hands, on-screen or in person, with an attitude called ‘premature closure’.  Already sceptical about the value or even purpose of these events.

I recall one sales manager for a large technology company, say to me, ”My job is to protect my team from all the bullshit and spin that comes from global. These all hands meetings are waste of time, so I tell my team to log on, turn their cameras off, and get on with other work.”

This is telling.

We have also heard of all hands meetings where attendees are asked to write questions or make comments in chat. This can turn ugly. Depending on the region, HR demand that employees post anonymously, and it becomes a ‘release the trolls’ experience.

This is telling.

Rather than blame the employees for their negativity or hostility regarding office meetings, reflect on what lies underneath their scepticism or cynicism. It must be drawn from previous experience.

How can internal communication be improved?

Ensure you design and deliver an effective, engaging meeting:

  1. Ask the right questions
  2. Start strong – relevance, relevance, relevance
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Talk with the audience/camera (not the PowerPoint slide)
  5. Close strong

But what does that look like? Let’s step through each step, one by one.

teamwork

1. Ask the right questions before office meetings

The most important question you can ask, when preparing for an all hands meeting, is this…

“What is the outcome from the ‘audience’ perspective?”

The word audience is important. From the Latin audientia, leading to the verb, audio, meaning ‘I hear’ or ‘I listen’, the importance of what people hear at an all hands meeting is also blended with what they see, and experience.

An audience typically experiences a performance – a concert, a show, a presentation, a play – and an effective meeting is a performance.

So, what is the outcome from the audience’s perspective?

Here are the four subsets of that question… 

At the end of the all hands meeting

  1. What will the audience feel? (experience)

  2. What will the audience think? (know)

  3. What will they do? (call to action)

  4. What will they commit to? (accountability) 

Make sure your agenda has been planned to get the results you want from all four of these questions. If you want support for a new sustainability initiative – you might want to inspire them with a powerful sustainability story, explain who you need specifically to help and ask them to reach out directly to their line manager if they wish to contribute.

2. Start strong in all internal communication – relevance, relevance, relevance

Simon Sinek has built a global reputation with one piece of advice – start with Why. His 2009 TED Talk has had 9 million plus views exploring this one idea. 

It’s obvious, isn’t it? Why would someone attend an all hands meeting? A lot of the time it’s because it is sanctioned. “Everyone must attend the Tuesday all hands’ directive”. 

When the all hands starts, that question is still in everyone’s mind… why should I listen to this? This is the classic WIIFM situation. What’s In It For Me? 

Here is the typical start…

“Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone… thank you for attending today’s all hands meeting. Let’s get started. Not everyone is here yet, so there will be more logging on, but we only have an hour. I know we are all busy and there is a lot of change going on. Hopefully, we can make this a good use of your time. My name is Trudy Goodenough, Head of Global Communications, and my job is to introduce our wonderful speakers today. So, let’s take a look at the agenda…”

With this, there will be the introduction to the Head of Strategy, to launch into the content and messaging for the office meeting.

Consider the difference if this was the start… (working on a Zoom/Teams based all hands event).

On camera is a young woman, her late 20’s… looking directly down the camera.

“About years ago, on June 11th, 2020, I joined [company name]. Why? Because my belief back then is what we do, every day makes a difference. We do good work. We help our customers. We contribute. I was excited. Pumped. Ready to go. Covid was everywhere of course, so I was working from home, like most of us.

Now, 2 years later, I’m feeling confused and a little overwhelmed. I love my job. We are a great team, however, there has been so much change, so much uncertainty, that I need two things… clarity and honesty. I want to know what the plan is, and I want to know what is really going on.

My name is Angela Li… and I’m a Project Planner in our Operations Team here in Shanghai.
What I am asking for, today, from our leaders, is a clear understanding of the recent changes. Why they have occurred and what it means for me in my role.

These all hands meetings are important opportunities for us to learn and plan… so I am happy to introduce our Global Leader, Anton…”

Not only is this breaking the office meeting mould office meeting, but it also immediately places attention on the employees. Capturing the existing sentiment and preparing the audience for the upcoming session. It also places accountability on the leadership to deliver on the request.

Other ways to start strong include telling a compelling story from an internal communication scenario, asking a series of questions, presenting data points that tell a story, and a provocative or challenging quote/statement.

The immediate follow-on is a clear articulation of the Why. This is called the ‘Why Frame’. The most elegant establishment of why is the simple present to desired state description… describing the challenges of today and the pathway to the desired future – again from the perspective of the audience.

3. What are internal communication strategies? No.1 is always: keep it simple

Here is the rule about all content: Less is more.

Imagine you are packing for an overseas holiday. Pack everything you think you need, then take out 50%. That’s good advice. It applies to presentations too. Particularly all hands events. 

This refers to the ‘What will the audience think?’ at the end of the all hands meeting. What content and messages will be delivered and Why?

We have a maxim we live by in our business… ‘content is the refuge of the insecure. 

Too many people try and push a mountain of messy content through a keyhole during office meetings when all you need is a simple key to unlock understanding and clarity. The key refers to the 2 or 3 ‘key’ messages the audience walk away with, following the conclusion of the all hands meeting.

Easier said than done.

Using the example from earlier… the Global Head Of Finance has several issues in their mind to be covered…

  1. The recent acquisition news, including implications on existing roles

  2. Last quarter performance update

  3. A customer contribution (assuming this is a testimonial of sorts)

  4. A marketing update (Mark from marketing)

  5. Update on the Zeus Program (restructure process)

  6. Q&A (squeezed into the last 10 minutes)

Which of these would be most relevant to the audience? Let’s assume it’s the recent acquisition and, perhaps, the Zeus Program. Both have a material impact on most people’s jobs. An acquisition is always a complex process, including elevated anxiety about future job roles, cultural impacts, and other integration issues. A broad restructure is also a concern regarding role, responsibilities, reporting lines etc.

This should be the focus of internal communication. In fact, choosing one might be the smart move. This allows for depth and breadth plus more time for interaction via Q&A.

4. How do you speak in office meetings? Talk with the audience – not the PPT slides

70/30 is the golden ratio. 70% of the time the all hands meeting should be direct to the camera or slides off in a live environment. 

Too many executives hide behind slides during office meetings. We have all sat staring at a screen as someone elaborates on what we have just read. The common expression ‘death by PowerPoint’ refers to the numbing experience of someone droning on and on about a complicated, overly packed slide, often with the apology ‘I’m sorry about this slide, it’s rather busy’ as if the presenter had NOTHING to do with the slide being shown.

This is infuriating.

Visual aids in an all hands meeting are exactly that – an AID to the presentation. One rule of thumb to consider is this… if the technology failed and you could not show the slides, could you still deliver the outcome? 

We had this exact thing happen with a banking client last month. We helped design the all hands meeting, a hybrid with half the people in the room and the others coming in on Zoom. For some reason the Zoom group could not see the slides, so the executive leading the session dropped the slides entirely. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “We loved not having the PPT slides. It felt like an authentic conversation” was the comment that summed it up.

5. ‘Close strong’ to create impact in internal communication with employees.

The primacy and recency effect, means people are more likely to remember what you started with, and what you ended with in your presentations.

Closing strong uses this principle.

Close with what you started with… if it’s a story, close with that story. If you started with data points, remind them of the data points and their relationship to the messages that you just delivered.

In the example we used earlier, I would have Angela Li close the session with something like…

“Well, that’s what I was hoping for… thank you for the clarity Anton. Like many of my colleagues I was concerned about the future, and my role, so what you have just shared lays out the game plan and I can see my place in the scheme of things. I’m relieved. Thank you, this has been a very valuable all hands session, I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Next time you are planning an all hands meeting, use the 5 step structure to guide your planning, design and delivery.

  1. Ask the right questions

  2. Start strong – relevance, relevance, relevance

  3. Keep it simple

  4. Talk with the audience/camera (not the PowerPoint slide)

  5. Close strong

Easy.

Want to transform the impact of your team?

If you’ve been inspired by how these simple tweaks can change the effectiveness of your leader’s communications, think about how CJM can shift the dial on your leadership team’s ability to align global messaging, act as one team and unite to achieve organisational goals. 

Programs like our ‘Leadership Alignment Program’ teach the mindset, skills and frameworks that allow leadership teams to accelerate their success. Launching a new initiative, restructuring? Our support is “directly aligned with specific customer and internal events” to ensure the learning has an immediate impact on existing projects.

Enquire about our broad range of leadership training options today!

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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