Peter Fowler, Managing Director, UK
The annual meeting is a crucial part of any organisation’s interactions with its members, giving them an opportunity to hear how the organisation is doing and discuss its future plans and prospects.
Yet there is a feeling that for many associations, the annual meeting is little more than an inconvenience or formality, often with declining attendance. This has led some people to question whether annual meetings are still the right way for organisations to interact with their membership in the 21st Century.
However, technology has started to transform the way member meetings are held, with many associations adopting technology to help make such gatherings more user-friendly, by streamlining aspects such as registration, electronic polling and proxy voting systems.
How to go Hybrid
One of the most significant developments is the increasing use of online meeting platforms to enable hybrid meetings, where people can either attend in person or online. Hybrid meetings increase the opportunities for interested members to engage with the association they belong to; they promote long-term member retention; and they can streamline the administrative processes involved in dealing with members.
Implementing a hybrid meeting is not without governance issues, and there are a few to consider.
- Firstly, take a look at your governing documents, or your constitution, as they may well need to be amended to enable you to hold meetings in a hybrid format. If that is the case, even if there is nothing specific in your constitution, you may want to consult your members before you change the format of the meeting to make sure that they are in favour of the move. In fact, your articles of association may even require you to table a motion at your next annual meeting to allow you to make subsequent meetings hybrid.
Many member based organisations have gone ahead and made these changes to their constitutional documents, in readiness for when they feel the time is right to offer this to their members, and they have been overwhelmingly accepted by the membership base.
- The second procedural item to consider is how to inform your members of how they can register and participate in the meeting remotely. The majority of membership organisations and associations that we work with choose to incorporate these instructions within the Notice of Meeting. This makes it a simple adaptation of existing paperwork, rather than a separate document.
How to attend a meeting remotely
Once your organisation is ready to make the move to a hybrid meeting format, you will need to ensure that remote attendees know how to take part and what they can do. They will need to know how to verify their identity and log in to the meeting. They also need to be able to ensure that they can hear and/or see the proceedings, and be aware of how to vote and post questions, either before or during proceedings.
If there are contentious issues to be discussed, it is also a good idea to have a plan in place for dealing with difficult questions and debates – how do you strike the balance between allowing everyone to express their views and keeping the meeting on track? Will this process have to be different when some people are attending remotely?
It is important that everyone knows what the process is for dealing with such situations, including measures to ensure that remote attendees have the same opportunities to take part as those in the room.
Pick the right provider
Given the increased reliance on technology that hybrid meetings involve and the fact that it will be a new and unfamiliar process for members initially, you will want to choose your technology provider carefully and work closely with them so that both organisers and members are given a clear idea of what to do before, during and after the meeting.
You need to ensure you have policies and plans in place to deal with any technological disruption – if remote attendees cannot access the meeting, what happens? Does the meeting have to be cancelled or rearranged? Do you have adequate tech support on site to deal with problems?
There are a number of issues to consider when considering the switch to hybrid meetings, but they can make your annual meetings more engaging and relevant for all your members.
If you would like some assistance in this matter, MemberWise offer a Governance Review Service which can be accessed here.
Lumi is the leading player in software and real-time audience engagement technology worldwide. Lumi facilitates the smooth and reliable running of Annual General Meetings for listed companies, partnerships, unincorporated associations and other member-based organizations.