Haris Ahmed – Chicago | Town Halls and the Importance of Public Speaking

Haris Ahmed Chicago: Public Speaking in Company Town Hall Meetings

Haris Ahmed, from Chicago, is the founder and CEO of Pragmatium Consulting Group, Inc., a management consulting company that engages in public relations, continuous improvement, and change management. Today, he discusses the need for public speaking skills in today’s cutthroat business environment, and how an effective “town hall” speech can change the mood of a company for the better.

Organizations have gone a long way from renting massive auditoriums and getting its entire workforce together for start-of-the-year speeches. As companies evolve into specialized teams and expand into separate markets with different sites, the former set-up has proven to be impractical. While many organizations conduct policy announcements through remote conferencing and live streaming, others have recognized the need for speeches that are more geared towards specialized groups or geographies. Thus, the town hall meeting is now a fixture of organizational life.

To be honest, public speaking is an under-utilized skill nowadays. Because the most routine announcements, such as promotions and new technology implementations, are made through email, managers and executives find very little use for public speaking. Thus, when they do need to speak in public, many executives are tongue-twisted and unprepared. This leads to a lack of credibility within the organization.

To prepare for a town hall meeting, one should consider the type of audience that will attend. Are these mostly middle managers, supervisors, or rank-and-file employees? Are they hostile, receptive, or in the dark about the topic? Likewise, one must ask him/herself the following questions: Is the topic sensitive in nature? Is it good news, bad news, both, or neither? If it is bad news, how can one, as a manager, convince employees that it is the right way to proceed?

While I was writing this article, I am reminded of a client who told me, “Haris Ahmed, Chicago is the hometown of President Obama. People here have high expectations of their public speakers.” Indeed, the former President has set the bar quite high for speeches of all kinds. Whether he was speaking at a town hall in Carbondale or at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama was the sort of person you’d listen to intently, even if you’ve constantly voted Republican.

Recent events have shown that at the grassroots level, policymakers are ill-prepared for town hall meetings. There are some reports on members of Congress having to suspend their town hall meetings because of hostile questions coming from the audience. In extreme cases, some meetings had to be cancelled altogether. Whether as a CEO or a manager, one does not want to be compared to a politician who is afraid to face his/her constituents. Doing so will make one lose credibility, and if word leaks out to media, it might also affect company stock performance.

Thus, transparency is key. If the topic at hand has the potential to inflict severe losses on the company, you should prepare for not-so-friendly questions. In fact, when drafting your speech, you should anticipate if a certain sensitive topic could result in questions, and incorporate your answers into the speech itself. That way, the question-and-answer that comes after the speech itself will only serve as an opportunity to expound on and clarify your positions. One good answer can actually turn a hostile audience into one that’s receptive to your policy at the very least.

Stay tuned to this blog by Haris Ahmed from Chicago consulting company Pragmatium Consulting Group Inc. for more about the importance of public speaking.



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