Even before the travel restrictions and general chaos in the last few weeks, companies were looking to move routine in-person events like shareholder meetings and annual general meetings (AGM) online. There are a few reasons to do it, like efficiency and cost savings, however a webinar can lack the engagement that an in-person event can have.
Link Group recently held the first wholly virtual shareholder meeting online in ANZ, and is pushing to do more on their proprietary virtual platform. It is a change for a business that has significant experience running in-person events - more than 1,800 in 2019. Link Group Corporate Markets co-CEO Lysa McKenna says they have long supported the idea digital AGMs to enable both in-person and digital audience and participation.
“We expected this growth in the adoption of our virtual AGM technology to continue in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased interest across the board in our solutions,” says McKenna. “Where previously there was some hesitancy from some directors about the possibility for technological issues or that the digital platform would promote objectionable behaviour, these issues have simply not arisen. Instead, there is now broad acceptance of the technology’s essential role to play during the pandemic and beyond.”
McKenna told Industry Moves that she and Link Group think virtual or a hybrid virtual/in-person general meeting style will likely be the way of the future. “Our expectation is that virtual shareholder meetings will become the norm in the near term to ensure companies are complying with government and community expectations around COVID-19 risk minimisation.
“In the long-term, even once the pandemic comes to an end and physical meetings are once again a requirement, we think a lot of companies will continue offering a digital option to its shareholders through virtual meetings, and this can only be a good thing for investor engagement.”
What you need to know to make the change
The COVID-19 spread and subsequent actions to contain it have left companies scrambling to execute events that have statutory or regulatory requirements attached to them.
Tim Johnson, director of demand generation at webinar provider On24, says the good news is that an online event should be fairly quick to set up. “Within a couple weeks you can build an audience and go live with content. Although, for best results we recommend a 4 week runway of promotion to maximise your digital audience, particularly if it’s an external event.”
Whereas large in-person events tend to have a performative aspect to them, Johnson says that virtual events are better received when they are stripped back and mirror a virtual coffee chat, a one-on-one interview, or an SME panel session. " These engaging formats don’t require any slideware or story building, they are just authentic, human experiences that mirror the type of talk shows we all watch on TV today. Simple, unscripted and engaging."
Can you replace face-to-face interaction?
While you can never truly replace face-to-face human interaction, Johnson says you may need to reframe the way you think about your event. "Our advice is to focus on more than just the content and the speaker although both being very critical to the overall success, many webinar producers neglect the experience their offering and simply think the job is done once a speaker in lined up and a slide deck in produced.
"Modern webinar platforms allow you to curate highly engaging digital experiences, with interactive tools that allow you to draw the audience into the experience and make them feel connect to the conversation and the brand."
In fact, he says they’re seeing an increase in the amount of webinars that eschew slides and a presentation in favour of something more like a conversation. "Webinar producers and hosts that include their audience in the conversation and give them content and tasks to interact with during the webinar are the ones that are winning in the digital experience space."
Keeping control while allowing everyone to have a voice
The concern that comes from enabling an interactive experience comes from the fear that the loudest voice in the room will derail the conversation. "Of course, you want to bring your audience into the discussion and have their voice heard but only when it’s appropriate to do so.
"It’s best to think about your webinar as a storyboard and plan for moments of interactivity with the audience, so think about ways you can weave 2 – 3 polls, Q&A breaks or even a fun competition in along the way."
Doing business via a webinar
ASIC and the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, have recognised the fluid situation around COVID-19 and have made changes that recognise companies may not be able to comply with relevant portions of the Corporations Act, and have put in place measures for relief.
That does not mean the requirements are going away, just enforcement delayed briefly. This will hopefully give organisations time to make the changes