Contributed by: Nancy Carter, Chief Financial Officer
In 2016, the CANARIE team took a leap and made the decision to host our Annual General Meeting (AGM) via video conference. While the decision was easy, the implementation of the decision required a tremendous team effort, which in the end, resulted in a successful AGM. We measured success in three ways:
- an increase in members attending the AGM (as compared to our face-to-face AGMs);
- a seamless experience for member participants; and
- positive feedback from our post-AGM questionnaire.
Given that many of our partner and stakeholder organizations must also hold AGMs, we thought we’d share what we learned more broadly, so…
Here’s what you need to know!
First, you need to check that your organization’s bylaws and/or governing legislation allow for a virtual AGM. Once that’s verified, you’re on your way!
All our planning for the virtual AGM was focussed on ensuring that the members’ experience was a productive and positive one. That meant we had to think of every element of the meeting from the members’ perspective.
That meant working through:
What members want to see on their desktop/laptop:
- Everything from the layout of the presentation slides, to the backdrop of the speakers (we had CANARIE banners behind them), to the clothing of the speakers (no large checks or stripes, which are distracting on screen) need to be evaluated, and tested, before the big day.
What members will need to know:
- We provided abundant and detailed communications to members from the first notice of the meeting, sent out one month before the scheduled AGM. We placed the link to the video conference prominently on all materials, provided clear instructions with screenshots, and provided links to technical help on the day of the meeting. We sent calendar invites to ensure that members had a reminder in their calendars. We recommend posting the notice and meeting materials (like the minutes from the previous year’s AGM and the financial statements) on a page on your website. Even with all this information provided in advance, we reviewed all the procedures again at the beginning of the meeting itself.
How members will want to interact with speakers:
- We had all mics muted centrally but it was easy for individual members to unmute their mics and ask a question. Even with 50 participants on the call, this worked extremely well.
How members will vote:
- We realized that having every member on the call indicate “yay” for each motion, requiring a vote would be both time-consuming and difficult to manage. We chose to go with a different voting protocol, where only members wishing to vote “nay” were asked to vote. We had a detailed list of who was on the call and who held proxies, so we could easily calculate the results of the vote on any given motion. This worked well, and member feedback suggested they found this method to be appropriate.
How to make the technology seamless:
- This, predictably, was what kept team members awake through the night. Would the system crash? What if the audio went kaflooey? What if there was a power outage? What if there was a fire alarm? Believe me, we thought of every natural and unnatural disaster that could disrupt the meeting and had a contingency plan in place for most. And since the technology platform was the key to the success of the meeting, it took up the majority of our planning and preparation time.
Thinking Through the Technology
We tested a number of technology platforms before deciding that video conference technology (we used Zoom), as opposed to a webinar technology or other option, was the best choice for us. We had significant experience with this platform, having used it for almost two years. That is not to say that we didn’t go through plenty of rehearsals with the technology – we did – and learned a few lessons along the way.
- Ensure your technology platform will support the expected number of users.
- We had a requirement to have both French and English slides, so we used the app PowerShow to achieve this.
- Remember to disable annotation, and lock “screen share” mode.
- If you will be recording the AGM, remember to notify all participants that you will be doing so, and deploy the recording function locally.
- Configure the meeting to mute all participants upon entry (but allow participants to unmute themselves). This will reduce or remove all background noise at the beginning of the meeting.
- Depending upon the system that you use, some members dialing in by telephone must be manually muted – check how this will work with the system you choose.
- Be sure to have back-up laptops available (and spare batteries for remotes etc. just to be safe).
- If you’re like us and wanted to over-prepare, ensure you have access to a redundant network connection.
- We also enabled the chat function in Zoom so that members could ask questions via that method if they wished.
Audio and Video
- To prevent audio feedback, ensure speakers within the broadcast room are NOT connected to the video conference technology.
- Test sound one hour before the meeting with external test users.
- Test video one hour before meeting with external test users.
- To test the load on the system, have a large number of users join the meeting with audio and video during test periods.
- During test periods, run through the entire script, fine tuning as needed.
- We had two monitors for presenters: one so that they could see their presentation as members were seeing it, and another so that they could see the chat activity and number of members attending.
- We conducted the AGM in a room that led to our office reception area; to avoid distractions, we locked the front door and asked staff to use another door.
- We positioned a CANARIE banner behind the speakers as a backdrop – but you will want to check the view of speakers to account for glare or other visual distractions.
- Fire alarm: check with your building to ensure there are no fire drills scheduled.
- Set up alternative conference equipment and/or room as failover protection.
- Set up back-up host and presentations laptops.
- Test all contingency plans!
- Verify connectivity to back-up network connection.
- Ensure all presenters are aware of contingencies and what they should do in the event of a failure.
- Make a plan to determine what you will do if you do not achieve quorum, or if members drop off during the call.
- Ensure that you have staff available to support members who may be having technology difficulties, and train those staff on how to respond to members (we learned this lesson during this go around) and how to contact the video conference moderators during the meeting.
- Provide support contact information to all members as part of meeting materials.
- Ensure the support phone is staffed one hour before the meeting and throughout the meeting.
Once you’ve worked through all of these issues, you will want to do one thing over and over and over again.
Then rehearse again.
Then rehearse again.
We conducted about 20 practice runs of the AGM in the run-up to the meeting. There is no option here – the only way to feel confident that your virtual AGM will run smoothly is to have the experience of your practice AGM run smoothly. And that definitely takes practice.
During the Meeting
Meeting content is definitely your area of expertise. At CANARIE, we use a very detailed scenario document, which clearly outlines all speaking parts, and provides notes for presenters (e.g. “look at screen”). To ensure things didn’t get too rushed close to the meeting date, we had all the presentation decks prepared and approved well in advance of the meeting.
Given all the time and effort that was spent preparing for our first virtual AGM, we wanted to ensure we set aside some time to debrief with the team immediately after the meeting. That gave us the opportunity to review what went well, what could be improved, and what may have gone wrong. Then we went away and documented it all, so that when next year’s AGM rolls around we have a detailed process document to rely on.
We also prepared a brief survey for members who participated, to gain rapid feedback on their experience of the meeting.
Happily, our virtual AGM was a success. Remember that our criteria for success were:
An increase in member participants
- Yes! 124% increase over 2015.
A seamless experience for member participants
- It was seamless for 50 participants (which included our moderators and speakers), but not so much for the last two members who tried to join the meeting. We realized that our VC system would only accommodate 50 meeting participants (d’oh!). We won’t make that mistake again. It now accommodates 100.
Positive feedback from our post-AGM questionnaire
- This was overwhelmingly positive, as members voiced their thanks at being able to participate without traveling and their congratulations on a well-organized and presented AGM.
Then, we celebrated and made sure that the team got well-deserved kudos (and finally got a good night’s sleep)!