Recently we were in a situation where a regularly planned in-person Annual General Meeting (AGM) for a national association couldn’t take place as part of a traditional conference. Our option was to hold a telephone meeting to bring members together in a less traditional way. During this process we discovered many pros and cons for both types of association AGMs and some things to consider for the associations that we manage.
Registration: Are you going to meet quorum with a teleconference AGM for your association?
Typically, an in-person AGM would occur during a national conference for the association and other allied groups. We know who is registered to attend the conference, and would be able to create a registration process for the physical AGM itself. This allows us to determine if we were going to reach quorum well in advance of the meeting. With a telephone AGM, you never know what factors will influence a member’s decision to call in to the AGM. It is a lot easier for someone to decide last minute if they have the time in their day to attend the call or not. The call would also be in varying time zones making accessibility different for everyone.
Script: How to keep the association AGM flowing with script management
Getting past the hope of reaching quorum, the next step is development of the script for the AGM. For both an in-person and a teleconference AGM, in order to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and efficiently, the script should be prepared and reviewed by the chair and other speakers well in advance of the meeting. Please see the following blog article on preparing board members for a meeting: https://strauss.ca/youre-ready-board-meeting-board-members/.
It is best to assign board members to make the motions and to have seconders in place to improve efficiency and avoid any radio silence that could be experienced during the live meeting. With a telephone AGM, the teleconference provider that you use may have voting technologies that allow for quick responses from all callers as well. Please see the following article on experiences we’ve had in the past with teleconference association AGMs: https://strauss.ca/teleconference-based-annual-general-meetings/.
Discussion: You are not face to face, so how do you encourage association member dialogue in a teleconference AGM?
While having this script in place can aid for a quick meeting, you are also hoping for member involvement and discussion. Even during a teleconference AGM there should be opportunities for discussion on each motion. In addition, at the end of the meeting there should be an agenda item for further business. The call operator should provide the option of creating a queue of people who have comments or questions. This is an opportunity to listen to the issues that affect your association members. While a call can certainly create communication and discussion, the side conversations that would occur between members after the meeting may not happen. Members are not in the same venue together and don’t have the same opportunities to continue their conversations. Instead they’d have to pick up the phone or compose an email to the various members they were discussing with which prolongs the overall conversation than if it were to be in-person. Quite often these conversations can get lost and issues that are affecting the membership will be unknown.
Purpose: What is your association member’s reason for attending the AGM?
Attending an AGM as part of a conference provides many benefits for the event attendee. Quite possibly a free breakfast or lunch, continuing education credits, or a place to sit with colleagues and catch up prior to and following the meeting. Attending the AGM doesn’t necessarily mean the most engaged members who truly are connected to the association are there.
With a teleconference AGM you can see who has the most interest in the association by who has blocked the time in their busy schedules and took the time to call in. We record who called in and then hope to encourage them to play bigger roles in the association by providing feedback on the issues that may have arose during dialogue, or encouraging them to take a small volunteer role with the association. Quite often we know the most vocal members of the associations we manage, but do not know the ones that want to be involved but aren’t comfortable enough to make their voices heard. We need to encourage those members and bring them into contributing roles within the association. Visit the following article for more information on member engagement: https://strauss.ca/association-volunteer-engagement-how-to-make-it-meaningful/.
What is the better way? Adaptation.
The most convenient solution for the association staff, the board members and association members is having a teleconference AGM. You can sit in the comfort of your office or home office depending on the time zone you are in, while listening to the call and vote at the appropriate times. However, seeing your association members, creating dialogue and networking opportunities will make your membership more engaged. Adapt to situations you are provided with, but try to use both methods in your association management. There is no right or wrong answer, the results rely on the way the modifications are communicated to your members and working with the resources you have.