How This Huge Corporation Runs its Virtual Meetings

With its Mid-Managers Business Meetings Initiative, McDonald’s has plugged in to a whole new way of offering leadership and management training.


McDonald’s USA has a lot of information to share with its mid-managers — the foodservice professionals who oversee and operate its nearly 14,000 restaurants in the United States. And, until recently, because the fast-food giant tends to be “very rigid,” said Tim Traylor, director of U.S. operations development for McDonald’s, that information has been communicated in terms of “‘Here’s what you need to do,’ and not always finding the whys behind the initiative.”

But, Traylor said, the company decided it needed to change its tactical approach and “to take a step back and start getting a little bit more strategic in sharing the strategic plan or the objectives of what we’re trying to solve.”

Thus was born the Mid-Managers Business Meetings Initiative, a three-hour virtual event that McDonald’s has presented seven times since December 2011. One Smooth Stone, an event and communication firm, developed and produces the program for McDonald’s, using INXPO’s online events platform. In May, One Smooth Stone’s work won an Ex Award for “Best 100% Virtual Event” at the 2013 Event Marketing Summit.

“With … the amount of information, the longevity of the strategy, and the complexity of the audience,” said Gary Vlk, principal and executive vice president of One Smooth Stone, “being able to communicate with them, and keeping them within a single space — that all made sense that this platform was the right decision and [that] a single standalone webcast or a series of calls or other types of digital meetings wouldn’t work.”

Each program runs on a Thursday afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. Central time, and begins with a series of five- to 10-minute learning sessions presented by subject-matter experts — including McDonald’s senior executives — whom participants then can chat with one-on-one in a virtual exhibit area. That’s followed by an hour-long general session, then another hour of learning sessions and exhibit-hall interaction. Live sessions are broadcast from a production facility at McDonald’s home office in Oak Brook, Ill., and participants can log in to the event from their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. “It’s been very popular from a mobile-device standpoint,” Vlk said, “because we know that people are on the run.”

The “MBA-type” programming, Traylor said, puts “information around leadership and management in a somewhat different light than it might have been provided in the past,” and uses outside speakers on leadership as well. While content is available after the fact on an on-demand basis, Traylor said that McDonald’s prefers that as many mid-managers as possible experience the program as it’s happening, so they can interact with the subject-matter experts.

Participation has been strong — anywhere from 1,500 to 3,500 mid-managers have logged in for the live presentations — and response has been overwhelmingly positive. “This,” Traylor said, “has allowed us a way of changing how we put messages out to the field.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.