Temporary reforms to the Corporations Act of 2001, which took effect on 6 May 2020, enabled Australian companies to consider either postponing their annual general meetings (AGMs) or conducting them in a different way, such as holding a hybrid or virtual AGM, to meet social distancing requirements.
If you choose to hold a virtual AGM, it is essential to take the opportunity to develop a model that best suits your shareholder community and your organisation.
Ask yourself: How will your attendees vote? What options do you have in terms of presenter locations? And, how do you communicate the event itself?
Follow these rules to ensure you are set up for success when it comes to your online AGM.
1. Account for shareholder participation through questions, commentary and voting
The interactive elements of your virtual AGM may need special consideration to find the right balance between enabling the meeting to run smoothly and providing investors and members with a reasonable opportunity to participate.
For instance, you may take questions from shareholders and members during the registration process for the AGM and establish an online shareholder Q&A, including questions to the auditor.
These – along with comments on the remuneration report, for example – can be answered during the AGM live stream.
Before an AGM, shareholders will have received information – and even proxy materials – on topics to be voted on at the meeting, such as the structure of the board of directors and executive salary and benefits.
Talk to your technology provider about how to handle proxy voting online, or how you may enable live voting using online polls on your technology platform during the event.
2. Assess all presenter options
There are three main presenting options for your executive speakers when it comes to virtual AGMs: presenting from a studio, a physical presentation from an external venue or office that is live-streamed, and presenting remotely over a broadband connection or by phone.
Studio presentations provide the security of a stable video feed with additional technical controls and may offer the option of having your technology provider manage the Q&A and voting functions.
If filming from an external venue location, talk with your technology provider about how to manage filming at different locations and switching between them during your live stream.
Finally, if you opt for remote presenters, talk them through physically setting up the webcasting space, so they are presenting from a well-lit, uncluttered, and quiet location.
If their broadband connection is unreliable or they are uncomfortable on camera, consider an audio presentation with slides.
3. Rehearse the content and technology prior to your AGM
Rehearse the material and structure of your virtual AGM, including presentations, Chair and speaker transitions, and shareholder participation, such as voting and questions.
Ensure your Chair has a copy of the agenda at hand, to make it easy for investors and members to follow the action.
4. Send regular reminders
With any virtual event, lead-up marketing is crucial to a good turnout and a productive event. Your members or shareholders should be aware when your virtual AGM is scheduled, and they should have instructions for how to log in to view or participate in the event.
If you’re accepting questions from shareholders before the event, or sending out proxy voting materials, you may wish to email shareholders a reminder to advise when those options are about to close.
5. Conduct a technical run-through
On the morning of your event, have a technical run-through at least 30 minutes prior to the event to ensure all your speakers and presenters can get onto the platform, and their video or audio feeds are stable.
Ensure remote presenters will not be interrupted, especially if they are working remotely with kids and other family members present.
Open the call early, if possible, to allow for a prompt start and make any technical adjustments that may be necessary.
6. During your online AGM, ensure you have an in-platform list of participants and attendees
For legal requirements, you always need to know who is participating in the meeting.
Your webinar platform should enable you to record the event and may also offer a transcription service to facilitate accurate minute-keeping.
7. Have a Plan B, should technical or connectivity issues arise during your event
Always ensure your remote presenters have a phone close by in case connectivity is an issue during your event, and they need to switch to telephone audio.
If you’re using a managed webinar provider, your technology partner will be able to troubleshoot technical issues or call remote presenters into the event if a broadband connection drops out.
If you need to change from a live-streamed video event to a teleconference during the event, it’s good practice calling for a short adjournment to make the change.
8. Make your online AGM available on-demand
Consider making your AGM available online either to all visitors or current shareholders only.
Typically as much as two-thirds of all webinar views occur on-demand, and you may be opening your company up for consideration by a broader range of potential investors, or the involvement of a bigger membership base, by making your AGM available online.
Jeffrey Downs is the CEO and Founder of Redback Connect. A serial entrepreneur and corporate leader, Jeff founded Canada’s 12th fastest start-up, teleconferencing company Enunciate Conferencing, founded a grocery store chain in Canada, and was National Sales Director for Canada’s largest communications company Bell Canada. Jeff established Redback Connect in 2007.