Virtual or hybrid Annual General Meetings (AGM) are now well-established as part of the corporate landscape in Australia, with regulatory changes enacted to ensure organisations are legally able to hold their AGM online providing their constitution allows them to do so.
The key requirement, from a regulatory viewpoint, is that all members or shareholders can attend and fully participate in the meeting, including by commenting, asking questions of the board, and by voting at, or prior to, the meeting.
On 31 July 2020 the Government announced that the modifications to the Corporations Act allowing virtual AGMs would be extended so that they expire on 21 March 2021.
So if you’re legally required to hold an AGM in the next 5 months, or considering holding one for the first time, it’s worth understanding the key differences from a fully physical AGM, and what you might need to consider to bridge that gap.
Key differences of a hybrid or virtual AGM
A fully virtual AGM is generally conducted over secure webinar technology, with members pre-registering to attend the event and then typically clicking on a link to view a secure virtual event online.
Hybrid AGMs typically combine a small face-to-face meeting for members who may still wish to attend in person, linked with a virtual meeting that allows remote participation.
So what are the key differences of a virtual AGM?
1. Your technology platform provider is your conference room
Instead of hiring a large venue, you’ll need to choose a technology platform that will enable you to host similar — or larger — numbers of attendees to a traditional AGM. Often more members will attend a virtual AGM event because there are typically fewer hurdles (and less cost) involved when it comes to attending online. You’ll need to register attendees online prior to the event.
2. You will still need a physical venue with an adequate broadband connection
You may choose to host the AGM from your office, from a broadcast studio or from your speakers’ homes – but whichever you choose, ensure the broadband connection is up to the job.
3. Online AGMs require different presenting and moderating skills
To run a virtual AGM effectively, a moderator who is comfortable with the technology and experienced presenting virtually is a must. They must verbally inform members of the agenda, which item is up next, and step members carefully through voting procedures.
4. Online Q&A requires additional support
To enable attendees to participate fully in a virtual or hybrid AGM, the ability to ask questions is essential. Questions or comments must be invited over online chat and collated or moderated by an additional team member to ensure shareholders’ concerns are fairly reflected by those questions that are put to the meeting.
5. Votes should be held via live polls
Even if you provide a prior or proxy voting mechanism, it’s important to allow stakeholders to vote live at your AGM. That means you’ll need a voting or live polling mechanism and the ability to tabulate this with any pre-registered votes. Votes should not be conducted via a show of hands, as at a physical meeting.
How to choose a virtual AGM technology provider
With these key differences in mind, what should you consider when you come to choosing a technology provider to facilitate your virtual or online AGM?
Choose a platform that is secure, ensuring only your members and investors are able to access and participate in the event. Pre-register attendees so you know in advance who will attend.
Consider where your members are located. If you expect to have regional or rural members attending, ask your possible technology providers if they offer a combined teleconference and online meeting to ensure all regional, rural and mobile attendees are able to join the meeting.
A physical meeting should be able to be live-streamed and combined with an online meeting to enable those who wish to attend in person to do so with equal access to the event’s proceedings.
For full accessibility, your virtual AGM should be made available on demand after the event online.
3. Broadband connectivity
The strength of your broadband connection and network capacity are key considerations for ensuring your virtual AGM goes off without a hitch.
Consider a studio broadcast to ensure a high-speed broadband connection and built-in redundancy for your key presenters.
Ask remote presenters to connect directly into their modem and avoid broadcasting over Wifi, and always ensure thorough testing and briefing is conducted with them before your event.
If broadcasting online over your company’s internet connection, ensure your network can cope with the spike in internet usage, or enlist a technology provider that can provide reliable enterprise streaming.
Consider enabling remote speakers to present via audio or pre-recorded video if technical issues arise in advance of the meeting.
4. Local technical support
Unless you have sufficient IT support to do this yourself, select a technology provider that offers local support for both presenters and attendees.
They should provide a phone number for attendees experiencing trouble joining your meeting to call and should help facilitate voting and Q&A if required.
Troubleshooting can also be provided over live chat.
These details should be provided to attendees prior to the event and at the start of the meeting.
5. Q&A facilitation
Your technology platform should offer the option of pre-submitted questions from registered members and secure public or private Q&A during the event — either online or via a teleconference if required for regional or rural attendees
A facilitator should be selected to collate submitted questions, ensuring a balanced and representative selection is referred to the meeting’s moderator. Your technology provider may be able to help with this.
Ask if your technology platform provides a record of all submitted questions and comments received over chat features as well as a transcript of proceedings.
6. Voting options
Ensure your technology platform can facilitate live and pre-event or proxy voting as required.
All attendees — including those attending via teleconference — must be able to vote. Ask your technology provider how this would work.
Poll results should be made available during the meeting.
You may wish to film pre-recorded video to be played as votes are tabulated to keep viewers engaged and fully inform them of voting outcomes. Ask if your technology platform can facilitate this.
7. Backup options
Your technology provider should be able to provide advice on backup plans in case technical issues arise during your AGM, including live technical troubleshooting and alternative dial-in arrangements for remote presenters and attendees.
If the meeting cannot be continued via virtual means, it should be adjourned.
8. Prior experience
Has your technology provider hosted virtual or hybrid AGMs in the past? What has their experience been? Ask if they can provide you with case studies or examples of organisations that have successfully held the type of event you are seeking to host.
Just as you would walk-through a face-to-face event prior to the start time, it’s important to rehearse your virtual or hybrid AGM from the actual locations and using all the technology and presenters you expect to use on the day.
Ask your technology provider when and how you can conduct a rehearsal. Ensure you use that time to iron out any problems related to the venue, the event format or ‘flow’, broadband stability, Q&A and voting management, and other issues that may arise.
Redback conducts more than 200 virtual events a month for a range of corporate, not-for-profit and government customers — including virtual AGMs and hybrid events. Contact one of our customer representatives for more information.