While COVID-19 saw many businesses forced to hold their annual general meetings (AGMs) online in 2020, this year it’s expected that many will do so by choice, despite the fact some restrictions around gatherings are beginning to ease in Australia.
There are a couple of reasons behind this; firstly, because they can. While the legislation introduced to allow organisations to hold a virtual AGM under the Corporations Act expired in March this year, and an extension has yet to be passed by Parliament, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) has announced it will adopt a ‘no action’ position in relation to the convening and holding of virtual AGMs at least until the end of October 2021. So as long as an organisation’s constitution allows, a virtual AGM is a valid and very convenient option.
The second reason is because after being forced to give it a try in 2020, many organisations found that hybrid and virtual AGMs provide more flexibility for both an organisation and its shareholders, not to mention that they can be a lot more cost-effective.
Why your technology partner is crucial to the success of your AGM
So, once you’ve made the decision to host your AGM online, one of the most important factors to ensuring that your meeting meets all the regulatory guidelines in terms of audience participation is that it goes ahead without any technical hiccups. That’s why choosing the right technology provider is so crucial.
While using meeting software such as Zoom, Skype, Hangouts or Teams can be cheap, or free in some circumstances, they come with inherent risks. For starters, you can’t guarantee the quality of the video, nor are they the best option when it comes to accessibility due to restrictions around required operating systems and the need to have to set up an account with Microsoft or Google for example.
Today, the best meeting platforms offer real-time video conferencing on any video-enabled device – from a mobile phone to a boardroom system – and they make it easy for participants to attend.
So what are some of the factors you need to consider when it comes to finding the right meeting platform?
You need a technology partner, not just a provider
Firstly, it’s important to find a provider that offers more than just a technology platform.
Your AGM is one of the most significant events your organisation will hold this year, so look for a partner that will help you manage your event, and assist you through the process.
That might include tips on marketing and branding your event, training executives on how to present in a virtual format, or providing advice on setting up a space at home so the audience can see and hear your speakers properly.
It can also mean providing suggestions on what to wear, how to put together an effective slide presentation, and assistance with tools such as chat rooms, polls and handling questions from the floor.
It’s also important to have options around how your speakers can present. Should they present remotely from their own home or another venue, such as your office? Are they able to present from a professional broadcast studio in another city or state? Will they have access to webcams or multiple cameras? Will they be able to manage their own slide deck?
Make sure it’s easy for everyone to join
When it comes to AGMs, participation is key. That includes not only making sure attendees can ask questions and vote on issues, it’s also about making sure they can actually join your AGM.
Some services require participants to dial in using either local or toll-free numbers or via VoIP. These services can be prohibitive if you have attendees joining from overseas, in which case you’ll need to provide international dial-in numbers – and not every platform offers this as an option.
Some systems require users to download a plug-in, while others need participants to install software, which can also create issues around compatibility. Other services require attendees to enter a code to join the meeting.
The best and most user-friendly options simply require users to click on a link, don’t require any downloads, and operate on any device and operating system.
Consider the risks and know how you’ll deal with them
Other important issues to consider are risk and mitigation. When it comes to participation, for example, it’s important to have all your bases covered.
Do all your shareholders or members have access to an internet connection that’s reliable enough to stream video? In most circumstances, it’s best to imagine that not everyone does, in which case you should make sure your technology partner can provide an option for participants to attend via an audio-only teleconference.
The same goes for your speakers. It’s crucial to make sure they can at least be heard, no matter what. If they are presenting from home with an unreliable internet connection, make sure they also have the option to be able to join via a teleconference.
Ask your technology partner for details on their service level agreements, and find out what their back-up and redundancy plans entail if something goes wrong.
Security is also important. Get the details on how secure the platform is, and where your data is stored. Does it go offshore, or does it remain in Australia on secure servers?
Remember, participation is often a legal requirement
We’ve already mentioned that participation in AGMs is key and that not only includes enabling shareholders to join your event easily. Crucially, when it comes to listed companies, it’s a legal obligation for the host company to provide a “reasonable opportunity” for attendees to participate.
That’s why it’s important to get an understanding of the capabilities of the platform and the technology you can access as part of your event.
The best providers will be able to offer high-definition audio and video, a broadcast quality video conferencing bridge, and equipment such as large screens and HD cameras that make it easy for everyone to see and hear what’s happening.
It’s also important to establish what interactive features are built into the platform, such as the capacity to hold live Q&A sessions, the ability to vote, including proxy voting and running live polls, and access to chat features to facilitate comment, as well as downloadable resources.
It’s also important to gain an understanding of the platform’s reporting capabilities: What data can you gather from your event and when will you be able to access it? You should be able to access a recording of your meeting, as well as a transcript provides you with a verbatim record of your AGM and can help you avoid any issues around miscommunication.
Establish what support your technology partner can provide
Finally, make sure you establish the level of technical support they offer — both for your internal stakeholders as well as your attendees.
Many of the popular platforms we’ve already mentioned above lack the live support that providers such as Redback Connect offer, and the last thing you want to be doing in front of all your shareholders, not to mention your executives and Board members, is dealing with any technological issues that may arise.
To find out more about how to run an effective AGM that meets all the rules and regulations as well as the needs of your shareholders and members, download our Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Holding a Virtual AGM