This time last year we held our club’s AGM at the local rugby club because our club was under water. We thought that was a bit radical and far out. Imagine how we’d have reacted then if someone had told us that this year we’d be holding an AGM via Zoom (by what, now?)
But a lot has happened in the last 12 months (not least discovering what Zoom is and how to get off mute), and against all the odds we’ve just successfully held our club’s first ever virtual AGM. To my astonishment, it went better than I could possibly have imagined (despite it taking place on Friday 13th).
As ours was fairly late on in the year, we were lucky enough to have the benefit of other clubs’ experience, so I thought I’d pass on what we learned for anyone with their AGM still to come. So here, madam Chairman, are my tips for holding an AGM via Zoom.
Let’s be honest, most clubs (OK, all clubs) have an Awkward Customer who lies awake at night thinking of ways to make the committee’s life more complicated (admittedly that person is often actually indispensable to the club in some way or another). Whoever they are, I’m willing to bet this person will be standing by ready to challenge the validity of your Zoom AGM. I’d strongly advise you to head them off at the pass and address this issue well in advance. The last thing you need is to find yourself in the middle of a legal argument at the start of the meeting.
When we first proposed holding our AGM by Zoom, I did a fair bit of research into its validity. I trawled through our constitution and looked at the advice on the Charities Commission website. If you’ve got a lawyer in the club, it’s a good idea to ask them to cast their eye over the club’s constitution and flag up any possible problems (such as a provision that meetings should be held in person).
When I’d satisfied myself there was no reason why we shouldn’t hold the meeting via Zoom , I wrote to the membership and explained our reasoning. I had the odd reply expressing initial concern, but by the time we got to the meeting itself I was confident I’d reassured everyone that it was all hunky dory.
That said, we still kicked off the meeting (after the attendance register and apologies) by raising the question of the validity of the meeting, just for the avoidance of doubt. We asked members to express any reservations they had, failing which we would proceed on the assumption that everyone was in agreement that the meeting was valid.
Of course, this was pretty much meaningless – if the meeting was invalid, then a resolution as to its validity would be equally invalid, but it gave members an opportunity to speak now or forever hold their peace.
Get your ducks in a row
Preparation is everything. The more you do beforehand, the easier it will be.
I emailed out all the important documents (the agenda, the minutes of last year’s AGM, the Chairman’s, Captains’ and Treasurer’s reports and accounts) in advance. Instead of nominations for committee positions being written on a piece of paper tacked to the notice board in the clubhouse, our website guru set up a proposal system on the club’s website.
Finally, we held a brief Zoom call the night before the meeting with a few key members of the committee to run through any potential hitches and how we would handle them, as well as discussing the committee nominations to make sure all the positions were covered.
On the night I made sure I had printed versions of all the important documents on my desk (all of the above, plus the list of candidates for committee positions and the names of those proposing and seconding them as well as the constitution in case there were any issues about procedure) as it would have been awkward to view them on my screen mid-meeting.
Hybrid meeting with some attending in person
Because our club is in Wales and no longer in lockdown, we were able to hold a hybrid meeting with a small number of members attending in person at the club house. This option was warmly welcomed by some of our less technically-minded members and saved an awful lot of “YOU-NEED-TO-SWITCH-YOUR-VIDEO-ON” faffing at the beginning of the meeting.
We nominated a couple of Zoom-competent people to attend with them to stream the meeting on the TV screen in the club lounge. We asked anyone interested to book their attendance so we could limit the numbers, and invited them to wear masks and sit well apart from one another.
Of course this won’t be possible for English clubs during the latest lockdown (and was only available to members of the club living in Wales) but for those in Tier 1 from 2nd December onwards it might be an option.
Instructions for Zoom virgins
For everybody else, I sent out a basic, step-by-step video that showed how to get on to Zoom, and we tried to make sure we’d spoken to anyone we thought might struggle with the technology. Happily everyone seemed to manage OK on the night. There were one or two who didn’t switch their videos on (whether by accident or design we’ll never know) but most people managed to be seen and not heard – a rare event with a group of rowers…
I sent out the Zoom invitation well in advance and then sent it again the day before the AGM so people didn’t have to rummage around in their emails to find it.
It was just good luck that I happened to have the Pro version of Zoom, which I have for work purposes. You really want the host to have the Pro version so you’re not limited in the length of the meeting. Obviously it’s ideal if that’s the club secretary, but it doesn’t really matter who hosts it so long as the invitation gets to everybody and the host is able to keep an eye on proceedings. As host you can mute people and ask them to unmute where necessary, which is quite an important element of the meeting so you can let people contribute without hearing them slurping their gin and tonic.
If you’re hosting, it’s a good idea to use a desktop or laptop to conduct the meeting, as that way you get a full gallery view and are not restricted to viewing four people at a time as you are on a phone or tablet.
Even on my desktop I wasn’t able to view everyone in one go. 39 members of the club attended the meeting (a record, if recent years are anything to go by). Depending on your individual computer, you may be able to set it to view up to 49 participants at once – you’ll find this function in Settings>Video>Meetings. I was restricted to viewing 25 people at a time – something to do with my computer’s CPU (central processing unit, whatever that is). Anyway, the upshot was that I had to flick backwards and forwards on a fairly frequent basis during the meeting to make sure I could see everyone, in case anyone had raised their hand (and also when we voted).
This is a bit of a controversial one. Since initially writing the post I’ve been told there can be GDPR issues with recording the meeting, unless you’ve specified the purpose of the recording, obtained the consent of all those present to be recorded and undertaken to delete the recording as soon as possible afterwards. You may well conclude it’s not worth the hassle. Either way, do your own research on this!
If you are going to record it and are hosting the meeting, I’d recommend going into the advanced settings for the call and setting it to record automatically so you don’t forget to press record at the beginning of the meeting. You can record to the cloud or to your computer – I recorded to the cloud as I wanted to be absolutely sure the recording was secure and I didn’t suddenly find my disk was full. And don’t forget to delete the recording afterwards – perhaps when everyone has been sent the minutes and had time to consider and approve or object to them (a good incentive to get them out quickly).
I set ours to admit members with a password rather than using the waiting room so I didn’t have to keep admitting people as they arrived.
The meeting itself
Our chairman ran through the housekeeping at the beginning of the meeting. We asked everyone to stay on mute until they wished to speak to save us from a cacophany of barking dogs / shouting children / TV noise and the sound of eating or drinking. We asked that anyone wanting to speak raise a hand at which point they could unmute themselves and say their piece.
We didn’t encourage people to use the chat function as I had enough to do, taking notes and watching out for hand-waving, to follow up the chat thread as well. Some clubs have used the chat function as an add-on during their meeting, and it can be a way for other members to answer questions as they arise, but I felt it would only confuse things (and me).
We looked at various options for voting. Some clubs used the Zoom polls function but one reported that this was tricky for people using phones and tablets so we decided against it. We also rejected proxy votes as there was a question mark over their validity (and frankly I didn’t fancy the extra admin).
So we went old skool and asked everyone to raise a hand to vote. I’d wondered if it would be painstaking to count the votes this way, but actually it was fine as all motions were passed unanimously and it was easy to see the raised hands.
The only potential wrinkle was the members with their videos switched off. In our case, we asked them to speak up if they were opposing the motion – nobody did, and in any event we had enough votes without them to pass every motion.
The meeting was brought to a close in a record 50 minutes. Two days on, I’ve sent out the minutes and the result seems to have been accepted without question, with no allegations of voter fraud or constitutional violations, so I’m declaring it a success.
If you recently had a virtual AGM and have tips to add on holding an AGM via Zoom, please do pop them in the comments below – I’m sure there’s more to be said!
And if yours is still to come, I hope this has been helpful and that it all goes like clockwork. Good luck!