After hosting hundreds of virtual annual meetings, we’ve identified what sets companies up for the most success.
We now know in early 2024 that the Virtual Shareholder Meeting format is here to stay. A virtual meeting format is better for both the company (greater control, and no chance of disruption) and shareholders (because of the convenience). It allows more shareholders to connect to the meeting far more conveniently than attending in-person, and in fact has become a standard expectation for shareholders.
This brings us to the first of the virtual shareholder meeting best practice that EQ has identified. These practices are organized into two groups: preparation before the meeting, and the manner in which the meeting is conducted.
Virtual Meeting Best Practices: Pre-Meeting
Plan your shareholder meeting with the assumption that the vast majority of your shareholders expect the meeting to be virtual. This is no longer an exception, it’s a common expectation. This is especially true if you have a larger shareholder base that is geographically dispersed. We have found little difference with shareholder bases that skew younger or older – the expectation to be able to attend virtually is consistent, and we see no bias in attendance (higher or lower) with younger or older shareholder bases. A key priority here, however, is to work with your General Counsel early to identify any unique requirements that may vary by state.
Lock down a clear plan to notify shareholders and keep meeting information accessible. Allow extra time for mailing notices, and clearly highlight the meeting URL or link prominently in the proxy notice. Keep information about the meeting in an accessible place on the company website, and if it’s possible that a shareholder would call for meeting information, ensure that those colleagues have all necessary information. Ask yourself: would a reasonable shareholder with some motivation be able to find information about your meeting?
Determine your audience segments (shareholders/guests) and what they will be permitted to do and see. Shareholders have gated (control number) access and can typically ask questions. Guests are typically not permissioned to ask questions, but that approach is not universal. As many shareholders log in as guests, we encourage broader permissions here. A key consideration is to remember that nearly all virtual meetings allow questions to be submitted in written form only, and viewable to presenters or administrators only, as online behavior can be more unpredictable vs. in-person behavior. Greater flexibility in participation does not mean an open floor: you have full control over which questions will be addressed publicly, which will be addressed privately, or not at all.
Rehearse with all main speakers. We recommend a full walk-through 1-3 days before your meeting to establish familiarity with the process. The day of the meeting should feel as familiar as reading a script on a conference call.
Virtual Meeting Best Practices: During the Meeting
Acknowledge and welcome shareholders that are attending online exactly as you would if the meeting was in person. While virtual, each attendee has still taken multiple steps to attend, so a quick acknowledgement and thank you is well-received, just as a welcome greeting would be expected when attending in-person. Provide a quick reminder and precise information about how to submit questions (with clarity of who has permission to ask). An example here is don’t refer to a text box labeled “Messages” as the question box. Attendees will spend minutes looking for the non-existent “question” box. If additional or supplemental materials are available (via links or downloads on the meeting platform), acknowledge that as well.
State clearly up-front that only questions that are specifically pertinent to the business of the meeting will be addressed to set clear expectation. However, if a “State of the Business” or similar presentation is made, all content in that presentation is fair game for questions.
If questions are received, we recommend bundling them by topic, but acknowledge the exact number and explain a follow-up path if someone feels their question was not addressed.
Example: “We’ve received four questions regarding our dividend. I’ll address them, but if you feel the response did not answer your questions, please email us at email@example.com.”
Run the meeting as if an anonymous guest attendee is evaluating your engagement of shareholders.
Leave no shareholder feeling unacknowledged or disrespected. If a question is submitted, address it publicly or privately. A pre-formatted answer referring the shareholder to investor relations is far better than a non-response.
Adjourn the meeting with a warm and generous closing and acknowledge all the steps shareholders and guests undertook to attend the meeting, just as you would if the meeting were face-to-face. The purpose of the meeting is to cover the agenda items/proposals, but a second important goal is for shareholders to feel good about the engagement they just participated in.
Conclusion of Findings
We see the virtual (or hybrid in-person and virtual) meeting format continuing for nearly 90% of our clients. It’s a critical function, but it should not be stressful, complicated or overly expensive. At EQ, we pride ourselves in providing white glove service and meeting support. As this meeting comes once a year, we find few, if any clients that are familiar with the process. We are annual meeting experts, and we make it our mission to guide you at each step, both before and during your meeting, to provide a great experience for both you and your shareholders.
For more information on our annual meeting services, please see here.