Submitted by: Tracy Myers, Eastern Valley Regional Communication Coordinator
Since the onset of COVID-19 many businesses have become creative by engaging their members in virtual meetings; agriculture has been no exception. With upcoming annual general meetings (AGMs) on the horizon, many associations have been concerned about duplicating the aspects of a face-to-face meeting, namely interaction, networking, engagement, and break-time conversations. Virtual meetings can, however, provide the same depth of interaction and success, if planned properly.
One of the most important elements of a virtual AGM is the agenda. This should be provided to participants, in advance, and should include items such as keynote speakers, meeting structure, and the key members who will be in attendance to ensure that things run smoothly. Any relevant files (previous AGM minutes, financials etc.) should be distributed prior to the meeting to ensure that all participants are prepared prior the start of the meeting, ensuring that everyone is on the same page once the meeting has begun. It is also important to note that our association constitution requires us to hold annual meetings to cover off all required business of the organization, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make it engaging and educational at the same time.
One key way to ensure virtual AGMs remain engaging for all involved is to break the agenda down into pre-determined segments, including defined breaks. Since most AGMs will have speaker presentations it is important that you monitor the attention of those participating, if you may have to make minor adjustments. Most importantly, however, is to remain on topic and on time, with the general rule of thumb being no more than 2-hour segments. Associations will need to communicate with their presenters regarding what to expect—and what they can do to offer the best experience to members attending the meeting. An example might be to ask the speaker to provide ways that participants can engage such as “submit your question here” or “raise your hand in this way”. Virtual audiences need to feel that they are part of the process.
Providing virtual round-table discussions is a great way to allow attendees the opportunity to engage in a variety of discussion. If you want participants to engage in a specific topic you may want to provide video chat breakout rooms. This is an ideal way for participants to communicate on a common topic of interest. As with a face-to-face meeting, ensure that you have a designated facilitator to ensure that the discussion stays focused and that everyone has the opportunity to speak. It is important that everyone feels that they have a sense of purpose and that their input is recognized.
AGMs can seem daunting at times, as there is a lot of information to be absorbed, making it even more important that we provide opportunities, between sessions, to maintain people’s attention. An example of this might be to ask trivia questions related to a specific topic, or to draw “virtual” door prizes. Everyone loves the chance to win something and the chance to participate. These short breaks from the formality of the meeting also help to re-energize everyone in attendance.
Once your virtual meeting has taken place it is important to review, with your core team members, the aspects of the meeting that made it a success. At the same time, there may have been things that could have been changed or improved upon. It is important to keep in mind that, unlike a face-to-face meeting, a virtual one is new to most of us and is constantly evolving. It does, however, promote creativity and collaboration among those involved in the process and allows for the constant flow of ideas.
I recently came across this quote by Jennifer Britton (EffectiveVirtualConversations.com): “Leading conversations in the virtual realm is not about complexity. It’s about simplifying.” This is good advice as we begin to plan and implement our new way of conducting meetings.