2020 certainly didn’t go to plan for organisations that would normally have held their Annual General Meeting (AGM). At the beginning of the first lockdown, organisations were unsure how to facilitate their AGM, with some organisations choosing to postpone their AGM, whilst others decided to run a limited, virtual AGM.
As the virus continues to devastate the world, lockdowns and social distancing remain firm priorities. The likelihood of large in-person meetings appears unlikely for many more months to come. Organisations are therefore naturally seeking alternative ways to conduct their future meetings remotely, allowing stakeholders to participate in the democratic governance of their organisation, whilst meeting the legal responsibilities and deadlines required when holding a General Meeting.
The ‘new normal’
The future of meeting in person certainly remains unknown but what we do know is that lockdown has changed our way of working, socialising and communicating with friends, family and organisations alike. Everybody is now familiar with terms such as: Teams, Zoom and GoToMeetings, plus many more, with virtual meetings becoming the ‘new normal’.
For organisations looking to hold their next general meeting virtually we wanted to share our expertise to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible and helps you deliver effective governance at the same time. We’ve broken it down so you can easily see the areas you need to think about:
Before your meeting:
1. Review your internal technical resource and capabilities – when deciding to hold a remote general meeting it’s important to assess the technical skills of your organisation, both in terms of the ability to manage meeting technology and also chair the meeting. Many organisations have the internal resource to do this, however, there are organisations that specialise in the licensing and management of large scale virtual meetings that can support you.
2. Decide on the best virtual meeting platform for hosting your meeting – there are lots of different providers to choose from depending on your needs. Some are free to use (just check for any meeting duration limitations), whilst others will require a paid license.
When choosing your virtual meeting platform for your next virtual AGM, the considerations you need to make include:
- The number of participants you expect to join
- What content/information do you want to be shared?
- What interaction with the audience is required (questions/voting/chat)?
- How will individuals access the platform, both from an authentication and usability perspective?
- How will meeting actions be recorded?
- Whether participants need to be “seen”
- Whether there are any specific rules/regulations that need to be adhered to
3. Timing is everything – especially so for a virtual meeting, so if it’s a global meeting you’re proposing then make sure you take into consideration the different time zones your participants might be in to maximise attendance. In addition, you may have specific elements that require member participation at a given time in the meeting. Control of the opening/closing of voting, recording of votes and announcement of the result may also need to be factored in too.
4. Give plenty of notice for the meeting – you may still have a legal requirement to provide notice of the meeting. If so, details of how the meeting is to be run virtually should be included in the notice if at all possible, helping to avoid last-minute confusion and allowing time for individuals to ensure they have the right IT/software set up.
5. Invitations and management of panellists – make sure everything runs smoothly on the day by making sure you are organised in ensuring meeting invitations are sent and agree on how you are going to manage panellists during the meeting.
6. Give clear instructions – just like any invitation but without the need for physical directions, make sure attendees have clear instructions on how to join the meeting.
7. Set up a support helpline – not everyone is tech-savvy. So, if it’s feasible, offer a helpline for anyone having technical problems and if you can, have IT Support on standby on the day to deal with any technical glitches. If you don’t have a lot of resource, then as a minimum provide an email address to attendees for support and assign someone to reply to technical questions/queries for anyone having issues joining your meeting. It’s better to be prepared with help to hand.
8. Ensure your quorate is reached during the meeting – without it, your meeting won’t be valid. It’s also worth taking legal advice on what would be considered “quorate” for your specific organisation.
9. Get to know your constitutional guidelines and articles of association – this ensures your meeting meets your pre-defined governance rules. Also, be aware that organisations have special dispensation for the running of General Meetings at present (as of October 2020). We would recommend ascertaining legal advice on the running of your meeting because it may not need to follow the exact process as your usual physical meeting would.
10. Invite questions in advance – once you have provided relevant information in advance, try to encourage attendees to submit any queries they may have in advance of the meeting within a predefined time-frame. This allows time to research issues and avoids prolonged discussions/repetition during your meeting.
11. Do participants need to vote on anything? – if you are going to need to vote on items then identify how you are going to manage voting in advance of the meeting and consider what channels you can offer participants to vote. The more voting channels participants can use, the more engagement you’re likely to have with stakeholders.
12. Considering using an online voting platform? – once you have decided on a voting provider, find out how well they can integrate with your virtual meeting or if you already have a voting provider they can advise you on the best meeting platform to use that supports your needs.
13. Will you need to implement a nomination process? – consider whether you will need to implement a nomination process and if so, ensure the process is set up and communicated in advance of the meeting.
14. Maximise participation in voting – decide whether participants can vote during the meeting or consider whether your voting provider can implement advance proxy voting. The more channels participants can vote on then you can expect to see a higher level of participation.
15. Agree the moderation process – agree how you are going to manage the moderation process prior to your meeting starting.
16. Practice makes perfect – consider a technical rehearsal in advance, as even the best-made plans can go wrong due to unforeseen technical difficulties and you don’t want to lose your audience. We recommend you iron out the technical glitches by running a technical rehearsal prior to your meeting.
There’s nothing worse than discovering microphones don’t work when hosting or realising that your Wi-Fi just doesn’t cut it when your meeting is about to start.
17. How long is too long? – think about how long your meeting is likely to run. If your meeting is likely to run for more than an hour it’s beneficial to schedule short comfort breaks to break the meeting up and/or consider whether attendees can enter the meeting at different times to encourage attendance to specific areas.
18. Secure your meeting – consider the security of both the virtual meeting platform and if you’re using online voting software then check out the provider’s credentials to ensure your meeting and voting elements won’t be compromised.
During the meeting:
1. Contributor register and sound check – just before the meeting starts, schedule a quick audio-visual sound check for all contributors, allowing participants to resolve issues and let you know they are having difficulties so that if necessary you can advise attendees of a short delay.
2. Registration – ensure someone is responsible for managing the registration process for members to participate in the meeting. We recommend having someone to support you in managing this process so that whoever is hosting can concentrate on hosting to ensure the meeting keeps to timings.
3. Give a clear introduction for your meeting – consider how you are going to welcome participants. Perhaps include an ice-breaker and explain how the meeting will run. The Chair should outline when and how participants are expected to participate and should go through housekeeping/etiquette for the meeting.
4. Mute when necessary – make sure someone is in control of muting participants at key times. It sounds harsh but this will minimise feedback, prevent participants from talking over each other and helps the meeting run to the timings. Questions can be posed at key times invited by the Chair throughout the meeting.
5. Expecting unexpected voting elements? – if you feel unexpected voting elements may crop up during your meeting then make sure your voting provider can handle this.
6. Take note – ensure detailed minutes are taken as would normally take place for an in-person meeting to evidence attendance, absences, agenda items and discussion/voting.
Virtual meetings can run successfully!
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and depending on the needs of your organisation, audience size and budget, not all elements will apply. The key to success is all in the planning to ensure the smooth running of your meeting that meets your organisational guidelines.
As experienced remote voting providers, Mi-Voice can support organisations with implementing hybrid and virtual AGMs, as well as EGMs and SGMs online to ensure effective governance for your next meeting. We have worked with a whole host of organisations in both the public and private sector and our success lies in tailoring our services to meet the requirements of our clients cost-effectively.
We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have so feel free to message us, drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on: UK +44 (0)2380 763 980 or IE: +353 (0) 1 513 3293