Annual General Meetings (AGMs) are one of the most important events organisations hold every year. AGMs are designed to ensure transparency, provide updates and give members or shareholders an opportunity to vote on a range of issues.
However, restrictions around gatherings introduced in response to COVID-19 added a whole new level of complexity to the traditional AGM, which historically involved inviting everyone to meet in a face-to-face setting or holding a hybrid event that allowed some people to join online while others attended live.
In response to those restrictions, in May 2020, the Australian Government made temporary changes to the Corporations Act to allow companies to hold meetings, including AGMs, entirely online.
While the Bill to allow these changes expired on 21 March 2021 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 meetings at least until 31 October 2021 (or an earlier date if any relevant measures are passed by Parliament).
Meanwhile, many organisations have reported their online AGMs have proven more effective at generating engagement with members than face-to-face AGMs, and their general intent is to permanently adopt a virtual or hybrid AGM format.
Similarly, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has also advised registered charities looking to hold an AGM to demonstrate accountability to their members that they should consider holding their meeting remotely via video or phone conference.
Should you hold a totally virtual or hybrid AGM?
Before you decide whether your AGM should be virtual or hybrid, it’s important to first check if you’re actually allowed to do either under the rules of your organisation’s constitution. A hybrid AGM is one where there is both a physical location and a live online interactive broadcast of the same event, while a virtual AGM is conducted solely online, whether it’s hosted remotely or from a studio.
If you are allowed, it’s time to decide on what model best suits both your organisation and your shareholders or members.
When it comes to listed companies, it’s important to remember that AGMs carry a legal obligation not only to keep shareholders informed about the business, direction, remuneration and performance of the company, but also to provide a “reasonable opportunity” for stakeholders to participate.
That means ensuring that attendees have an opportunity to speak, vote (by a poll rather than by a show of hands) and otherwise participate in the meeting.
With the opportunity to host an unlimited number of attendees, utilise private chat rooms where attendees can post questions, run Q&As and live polls, and broadcast the meeting simultaneously via an audio-only teleconference to participants who might not have a reliable internet connection, virtual meetings can often be a more efficient and cost-effective option than their in-person counterparts.
Virtual and hybrid AGMs may also include having your executives located in a studio, taking questions and/or hosting a Q&A session in the lead-up to the event, taking live questions via audio, video, or online chat, and encouraging voting by proxy.
Some organisations that have chosen a virtual or hybrid model have supplemented that at a later time with smaller face-to-face events for shareholders who like to see the whites of your eyes.
It pays to open the lines of communication with your relevant stakeholders — whether they’re shareholders or members — as early as possible in the lead-up to your AGM and ask them what they would prefer. Do a majority still want to meet face-to-face? Are people still reluctant to attend a large public gathering?
Then you can address the logistics around what’s possible under current restrictions, as well as your budget, and what’s not.
What to consider when it comes to hybrid AGMs
Here are a few things you should take into account when it comes to hybrid AGMs.
- What percentage of your shareholders want to attend in person?
- How will you maintain social distancing for staff and shareholders?
- Will the size of the room that you will require to accommodate everyone under social distancing rules blow out your budget? Will you need to hire more than one room?
- How will you inform shareholders about the hybrid model and how they can access it?
- How will your executives present? Are they comfortable in a virtual environment? Will they need training?
- How will you take questions during the event?
- How will you conduct voting?
- How will you handle technical difficulties for remote speakers or attendees?
What to consider when it comes to virtual AGMs
When it comes to virtual AGMs, it’s important to make sure that everyone can get involved so it pays to include both video and audio-only (teleconference) options, particularly if you have shareholders in rural or regional locations.
You should also think about whether you want to host your AGM completely remotely, or have your presenters situated together in a studio. Studio presentations provide a professional look as well as offering the security of a stable broadband connection and high-quality video, sound and lighting. Your technology provider may also be able to manage the Q&A and voting functions.
Remote presenters may need help setting up their camera, microphone and to make sure they’re presenting from a well-lit, uncluttered, quiet location.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to virtual AGMs:
- Will you use video, audio, or both?
- Will your executives present from a studio, an external venue such as your office, or from home?
- Is your technology platform secure?
- How will you take and respond to questions, accept comments, and facilitate voting online?
- What technical support can you offer speakers and attendees?
- What is your back-up plan in case of connectivity issues?
Choose your technology provider wisely
To hold a hybrid or virtual AGM you’ll need to select a technology partner.
If your presenters are comfortable operating and troubleshooting digital technology, you may decide to go with a do-it-yourself webinar platform.
If you would prefer the security of technical support, or the ability to broadcast from a studio environment, a managed webinar provider is probably a better choice.
Either way, you’ll need to make sure you offer all participants the ability to post questions, make comments and vote online.
Make sure you work closely with your technology provider to ensure they can cater to all your needs, their platform is secure, and they have effective redundancy plans in case of any technical issues.
To find out more about how to run an effective AGM that meets all the requirements as well as the needs of your shareholders and members, visit https://www.redbackconnect.com.au/virtual-annual-general-meeting/.
Or, if you are planning to run a Virtual or Hybrid AGM in the future, feel free to download the Virtual AGM Checklist