Live Q&A in a Virtual AGM?
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Directors preparing for their first online AGM often ask: Must we take live questions in this session?
The answer depends on your regulator’s rules.
Regulation is different in every market. In Singapore, the SGX allows a company to set a cutoff time for question submission (e.g., 72 hours prior), so management has time to prepare answers. Australia’s ASIC has stated shareholders ‘should be given a reasonable opportunity to ask questions live during the meeting’. So Australian directors must be every bit as prepared for the unexpected question as they are for traditional AGMs.
Even when questions are known in advance, the board should rehearse the process of handing-over and handing-back with the Chair, so the entire Q&A is delivered smoothly. While this may prove to be a straightforward process, you will only know following a full rehearsal, with the entire board and leadership team online together, microphones unmuted and expert observers giving feedback.
Practising simple behaviours like a handing-over expression can avoid awkward overlap and present a concerted front throughout the session. It can be as simple as ‘Thank you, Chairman’ at both the beginning and end of your response, or the Chair saying ‘I’ll hand over to Mei’.
If you are taking questions submitted in advance only, here’s a tip: Be sure to acknowledge the questions themselves. Boards sometimes assume they’ve done their job so long as they have addressed the content; but investors like to hear the question itself. You can easily group topics with expressions like:
We had ten questions about our response to COVID-19, so I’ll read one example and address all together. This shareholder asked, ‘How is the coronavirus affecting the supply chain?’
We’ve received three questions surrounding occupancy rates in our Class A properties. Let me address all three with the following data.
Live Q&A presents a host of issues to resolve and scenarios to role-play. The board must agree in advance the decision-maker for passing a question – typically the Chair, but important to spell out. Investor Relations will prepare FAQs and in many organisations, a designated spokesperson is assigned to topics. Be sure you’re prepared for your assigned topics.
You may wonder, Can I look at notes? You can but be mindful of how you come across when you do this.
Would you undermine investor confidence if you rely on paper notes? Has your face now shifted downward to read? Audiences unconsciously perceive a lack of eye contact as guilt or uncertainty.
A great way to overcome this risk is large-font notes. Hold them in front of you, near to the camera. Experienced videoconference presenters often prop their notes in front of the screen, just under the camera, or slightly to one side at a similar height.
These adjustments will smooth out the board’s delivery, thus sending a message of composure to the investing community. It’s important to remember that adjustments are the final touches. A well-handled Q&A requires very prepared directors with both content and language. Word choice and phrasing make an enormous difference in the audience’s reception. As Mark Twain famously said, ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.’