Totally agree with @liznowlin - context is key for making the most of these kinds of gatherings valuable.
It’s so great that you’re doing this - I’ve guided hundreds of coworking operators towards regular town hall meetings (from using them for regular, periodic check-ins to using them to course-correct when things get off track). It’s hands down on of the most valuable tools in our toolkit and I’ll admit…even we don’t use it enough!
We’ve done “Town Hall” style meetings as often as 3x a year, and as infrequently as annually. One of the best things you can do is treat these gatherings as a sort of rhythm, rather than a response to something specific, which to @liznowlin’s point tends to put people on edge.
If this is in response to something challenging going on, I recorded a two-part episode of a podcast with one of my teammates back when we were facing one of our biggest challenges, and I had to deliver a bunch of potentially scary news. The first part focuses on how I personally processed the bad news, which may or may not be as relevant. The second part, though, is more about how I used a combination of in-person conversations, small group conversations, and then larger public communications to synthesize LOTS of community feedback.
If this isn’t in response to something negative - which I hope it’s not and you’re just being a smart, proactive community leader, then this can look a lot like our normal Town Hall gatherings!
We typically structure those as a way to look at the past to see what we’ve accomplished, snapshot where we are today (successes and challenges), and then facilitate a conversation about where we might be headed.
I usually kick off with a brief warm-up type exercise where members are encouraged to introduce themselves. In a larger community, this can take the form of a think/pair/share exercise. In smaller groups, a quick round of “Hi, I’m Alex, and I joined Indy Hall because…” type thing that takes 10-15 seconds per person.
Then we’ll do a mini keynote of sorts, again looking back at recent history for some wins to celebrate (milestones, success stories, etc), followed by some thoughts on what things are like right now.
The goal is for this stuff to set the stage for the real meat, which is where things are going. This is something my team and I discuss ahead of time, usually prompting the room with some kind of question or idea that we think members WANT to contribute to.
I think that’s the key - if you make it all about the stuff YOU care about, and you’re trying to get them on board, it’s hard for people to get bought in. But if you have an idea of what people already care about…frame your conversations and questions around that.
One if my favorite exercises is to ask people to imagine 2-3 years down the road, and ask what their goals and dreams look like. Where they live, what they’re doing with their time. Who they’re working with, what they’re working on. What their work environment is like. What their neighborhood or city is like. Etc. (You can borrow more of my prompts/questions from this recording)
Then, for the second part of the exercise, ask them to talk about what might be in the way of reaching those goals, and what ways the community could work together to help each other accomplish those goals.
This exercise is kinda magical because it does two things:
1 - it gets people to open up about what they really care about, and inevitably, people will share goals and dreams
2 - it gets people thinking about how their skills and experiences can contribute to each other.
Best of all, in this mode, folks start thinking and responding VERY differently to things like “rules” because if you’ve done things right, the “rules” should be there to help them achieve what they want instead of being something arbitrary and in the way.
THIS is where shared values come from. It doesn’t come from a notebook or a brainstorm, it comes from people opening up to each other and realizing what they have in common.
Don’t be surprised or upset if not everybody attends - the key is to connect with the folks who DO attend, and make sure they have a valuable enough experience that they want to come to the next one AND they encourage other members to join in, too.
Last tip: treat these gatherings as the BEGINNING of a conversation, and be prepared to follow up and follow through. We literally say those words at the beginning and end of every town hall to help get members in the mindset that this isn’t the only time they can speak - we’re here to listen and support each other ALL the time, this meeting is just the starting point in case it’s been a while (or ever) for someone.