Make The Audience Part of a Grand Story

by Alan Willett

“This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.” 


I have observed many all-hands meetings. The mediocre sessions address a distracted audience. The worst ones have an audience who leave with less energy than they entered with. The best ones leave the participants energized and inspired. 

Please note that the last sentence changed the audience to participants. In the best all-hands meetings, even meetings with over 1000 people, the people gathered together don’t feel like they are being talked at. Even if they never have a chance to speak, they feel like they are part of the event, part of the story being told.

The best all-hands meetings I have participated in have the following critical common attributes.

  • Stories are shared about customers and the success they have achieved because of the company’s employees.
  • Stories are shared about teams that have made a positive difference for the key goals of the business.
  • Stories are shared about the work teams are doing that will make a significant future difference for customers and the business.


Scattered amongst the stories may be some cold hard facts about the financial status of the company or a mention of policy changes that people need to know about. However, those items make up a tiny percentage of the overall message. In the best all-hands gathering, those items are just a note in the middle where the speaker encourages employees to please read the company newsletter and make contact with questions or concerns.

The meeting focuses on showing the participants how they are a shared part of the story of the business and where it is going. This doesn’t mean that all the stories are completely positive. The best stories show the barriers that have to be overcome, the troubles that are faced. The best stories sometimes are about failure, but always end with what was learned and how the future will benefit.  

I have attended all hands meetings where the situation was dour. The leaders of the all-hands meeting made that very clear. They also were clear that they were not done and they had conviction that the situation would be improved.

The best meeting end with a renewed look at the inspiring purpose the organization has.

The best meetings end with people inspired to be part of the story of overcoming adversity to achieve a greater good.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,