All Hands are a key tool for communicating big points, giving the audience the best chance to hear and internalize those ideas, and creating transparency. The ideal All Hands also generates enthusiasm, though this is easier said than done with Zoom. If you’re a leader of an organization, you should plan on doing an All Hands roughly once a quarter.
Before doing anything else, lock down a date and time, and put it on the calendar. An All Hands has so many attendees, that you probably will not be able to find a time when everyone is free. Instead, make sure you’re clear of key conflicts like an all-team offsite, and otherwise let attendees schedule around you. Putting a date on the calendar 2-3 weeks ahead of time is also a good forcing function for actually nailing down an agenda, versus procrastinating.
As part of the calendar item, create the Zoom link. You should configure the Zoom meeting ahead of time to enable cloud recording, close captions, alternative hosts, and mute-by-default.
You can also add an optional Questions & Answers (Q&A) link to the calendar item. This could be just an empty doc, an anonymous Google Form, or you may have a fancy vendor tool for Q&A. Allowing people time to submit questions ahead of time generates more questions, and also gives you a chance to polish some of your answers.
Some people do not read every meeting invitation that flies by. In addition to sending the calendar item, you should also announce the All Hands over Slack, or email.
You can use any software for this, as long as all presenters can access and edit the document. You should avoid switching between different software during the presentation, if at all possible. Look for a recently updated template for presentations at your company, and start with that. Add your co-presenters to the document right when you create it. Flesh out a basic agenda with empty slides, and go from there.
Once you have a rough draft you’re happy with, you should share the document with a subset of the leads from the org. This can help catch any mistakes in the content, and also gives you some heads up on likely reactions and feedback from the org.
Your first slides are probably going to be an intro slide that shows while people are still joining the Zoom and the agenda slide for the All Hands. You should also include an easy-to-type URL for the presentation itself, right on the screen. Attendees should be able to join the Zoom, and type in the URL for the document, if they want to follow along. This doubles as a way to access the presentation, later. You should also include this URL on the last slide. Individual slides can also have their own easy-to-type URLs, where appropriate.
For the intro slide, I like to create a slideshow of recent team photos and pair it with some energizing music. Seeing themselves is a great way to get people engaged. An easy way to create this slideshow is to ask the entire team for photos up front, then use the Apple Photos slideshow feature to export a video file and embed it into the presentation document. If the video is relatively short, consider looping it and not embedding the music audio. Instead, you can play audio separately from Apple Music, or similar. Either way, you need to check off the box to “share computer audio” in Zoom, when you share your screen.
For the agenda slide, a simple bulleted list of 4-5 topics will suffice. Typical agenda items include an ice breaker, new people who have joined the org, a reminder of the org mission, recent wins, and upcoming initiatives, and Q&A. An hour is a good amount of time to plan for an All Hands, with one-third of the time for Q&A — so plan for 40 minutes of content.
You want to maximize the opportunity to get people engaged, right at the start. Nothing is engaging as participation. The easiest ice breaker for a large group is to use Zoom breakout rooms, and give people a prompt of something to talk about. Five people for five minutes is a good rule of thumb.
Easy conversation prompts:
- What did you have for dinner last night?
- What movie did you recently watch?
- What’s one surprising thing you learned recently?
Another easy ice breaker is to prompt people to share a recent photo from their phone, in Slack. There are also web apps that are specifically for ice breakers, like gatheround.com.
Shouting out to new folks who joined the team is also a good way to get people engaged. Plus, it lets you highlight that the team is growing. This is one slide that you want to crowdsource, to make sure you don’t miss anyone. You should include new hires, anyone who has recently transferred onto the team, and any new cross-functional partners.
If one of the new faces is a leader for the organization, consider having a dedicated slide for them, and a few minutes set aside for them to introduce themselves.
Key messages should be repeated over and over again so that everyone can internalize them. Having one slide here with the mission statement for your organization is one way to make sure everyone stays aligned.
As a follow-on from the mission, a simple slide with “this is us” and “this is where we fit into the larger organization” can help orient new people.
You should recap any big wins that have occurred since your last All Hands. These can be launches with business impact, new learnings, or social events that happened inside the org. A quick demo of a new product experience can be a good use of five minutes. In all cases, try to have the individual in org who led the effort present the win themselves. Make sure that the credit for each win goes to the right individuals and teams.
This can cover any other things that are happening, which everyone should know about. Maybe you had a great Hack Week, or you just started doing org-wide demos, or off-sites. Again, have the individuals most responsible for the work speak to it.
Product & Strategy
All Hands are a great time to introduce anything new that everyone needs to be on the same page about. You should include any large product efforts coming up, or any changes to org strategy. If you have visuals, include those.
This can also be a good section to include a Zoom poll. Ask people before and after this section whether they understand the product strategy of the org. Usually, you will see an improvement. In any case, it’s a good way to keep people engaged.
If you’re going to give away some company-branded merchandise, All Hands are a great time. Reward people who showed up and stuck around until the end of the presentation. This can look like a Google form where people sign up for the specific swag that they want, and enter their mailing address if needed.
This section is often the most valuable part of the All Hands. If you put out a call for questions ahead of time, start with those. But also take live questions from the audience. If you don’t have pre-submitted questions, you may want to “plant” a question asker in the audience, to get the ball rolling. Often people are hesitant to be the first one to ask a question. If all else fails, you can always “ask yourself” a question.
Make sure to set aside a lot of time for Q&A. It’s frustrating as an audience member when the regular presentation time runs over, and time for Q&A is short. A good rule of thumb for a one-hour All Hands is 40 minutes of content, and 20 minutes of Q&A. You should practice presenting your content as a group, to check whether it’s less than 40 minutes.
Avoiding Technical Difficulties
You have probably been in All Hands where the presenters could not get their audio/video working, control the slides properly, play a video, etc. It’s harder than you think! What you don’t want to be doing is debugging any technical difficulties with a live audience.
You should schedule a dry run with all the presenters. Book this ahead of time to be immediately before the actual All Hands. This lets all the presenters use the same laptop and Zoom ID that they will use for the real deal. It also makes sure that none of the presenters are late to the All Hands, due to a prior meeting running over. Don’t skip the dry run! Even if you’ve done a thousand All Hands, I promise this will catch some snafu.
During the dry run, test that the actual Zoom ID for the All Hands is working. Sometimes these get deactivated, potentially if the owner of the Zoom or the calendar item has changed. Make sure all the presenters can join, and toggle their audio and video.
Plan to have all presenters join from their laptops. Don’t attempt to mix presenters on laptops with a conference room A/V setup — this is asking for disaster! Conference rooms, conference room cameras/mics, and specifically jacking a laptop via a cable into a projector are the primary sources of technical difficulties. People should use the tools they are most familiar with. Plus, if any attendee is on Zoom, having all the presenters be on Zoom is the most inclusive option.
During the dry run, decide whether you are going to have one person drive the slides, or whether you are going to pass around control during the presentation. I have yet to see either the Google Slide feature or the Zoom feature for this work. Even if it works — presenters usually get confused and mess it up. The safest option is to have one person drive, and use audio cues like “next slide please”. It’s not a big deal — the audience is used to it. The most important thing is not to get flustered.
To share the actual presentation, enable slideshow/presenter mode in the software, and use regular Zoom screen sharing. Keep in mind that if your presentation is full screen for you, you will not be able to see Slack/Zoom chat, etc. Having a second monitor is a good solution. Otherwise, you can share a dedicated browser window (remove the other tabs).
Right before the All Hands starts, remind folks in Slack that it’s about to begin.
Hopefully, you’re relatively good at this, already. The most important things are to speak loudly and clearly and to be enthusiastic. Trust the content that you’ve put into slides to tell the story — don’t feel like you need to read each bullet point.
Enthusiasm is so important, that you should tailor your slides for it. Put something ridiculous on a slide, if it’s going to make you as the presenter smile. Jazz up the wording of a bullet point so that you’ll have an impish grin on your face when you say it. In general, have less text on the screen than you think you need, and also say less, and speak slower.
When you’re not presenting, give your co-presenters a boost by dropping encouraging emojis into Slack, or using Zoom reactions.
Remember to send the presentation out to all attendees after the All Hands, along with a video of the Zoom. So many people forget to do this! Try setting a reminder for yourself ahead of time, so that you don’t forget.
If you promised to follow up on something, or answer a question, make sure to do it.
All Hands Checklist 💯
Here is a quick checklist for planning an All Hands, to make sure you don’t forget anything.
- Calendar item created for All Hands
- Calendar item created for dry run immediately before the All Hands
- Calendar item has Zoom ID
- Zoom has recording enabled
- Zoom recording is set to “cloud”, not “local”
- Zoom has close captioning enabled
- Zoom has mute by default enabled
- Zoom has alternative hosts set
- Calendar item has Q&A link
- Announce the All Hands a week ahead of time via email/Slack
- Set a reminder to send out the video recording after the All Hands
- Request for team photos for the intro slideshow sent
- Find an up-to-date template for presentation decks
- Deck created
- Deck shared with presenters (can just be an empty draft)
- Deck has an easy-to-type link to itself on the first + last slide
- Create an intro slideshow + pick an intro music track
- Pick an icebreaker
- Crowd-source “new faces” slide for the deck
- Share deck with key org members for feedback
- Dry run: test Zoom ID
- Dry run: have presenters join individually from their laptops
- Dry run: test sharing the intro video + music
- Dry run: test switching presenters
- Send out a reminder announcement just before the All Hands starts
- After: send out a link to the deck + video recording
- After: send separate communication for any big announcements, don’t assume everyone saw All Hands