Virtual Meeting Roadshow – What We Have Learned

Since posting our earlier blogs about hosting your AGM amidst COVID-19 and SLSG’s  Simply Voting subscription to support sport organizations, the response from the sport community for virtual meeting support has kept us on the ‘virtual’ move.  Over the past 12 weeks, we have supported more than 15 sport organizations in hosting their online meetings and there are more scheduled in the weeks and months ahead. In addition, I’ve supported other not-for-profit organizations through my work as a Certified Parliamentarian. This blog serves to highlight some of the key learnings and highlights from what I’m calling the Virtual Meeting Roadshow.

One of the tools that has been very helpful in communicating SLSG’s virtual meeting services to sport organizations has been a Process Guide that outlines the levels of service that we can provide and the associated costs.  This Guide, coupled with an introductory conversation with organization leaders, has not only been helpful in establishing and outlining expectations, but it has also helped sport leaders to identify the key logistical requirements as well as the challenges associated with virtual meetings. There is a myriad of unique scenarios that can occur in an online setting, and it is important to be prepared for and mitigate any of the potential pitfalls. Another key tool that we have developed is a meeting script for the presiding officer (chair), either adapted from any existing script, or a template that we provide.  The script assists the chair in ensuring that parliamentary procedure is followed, that the meeting is compliant with the organization’s bylaws and any applicable statutes (Corporate/Society Act), and that proper instructions are provided to participants to enable a more efficient online meeting. Each script is tailored to the specific agenda for that meeting and scripts can be adapted for future meetings.

The acquisition of a Simply Voting subscription has also been a game changer for sport leaders. It is a secure, third-party voting platform that allows for anonymous, tabulated voting to take place virtually.  The system uses an email blast function that provides a unique, encrypted authentication credential for each eligible voter, and includes a variety of voting options and variables (such as weighted voting).  The SLSG subscription also includes a manual-entry function that allows us, as your independent scrutineers, to enter votes on behalf of voters, in the event that any voter is having difficulties.

“I was very nervous about hosting a virtual AGM for the first time after being forced into this decision by the pandemic, but Jason ensured that everything ran smoothly. Not paying for travel expenses, room rentals, etc., along with the confidence Jason inspired in the validity of the voting process made virtual AGMs an attractive alternative in the future.”
 Bill Johnson - Executive Director, Football Manitoba

While the majority of sport leaders have utilized a combination of ZOOM or GoToMeeting platforms for meeting and Simply Voting for voting, a few other clients have implemented their own meeting platforms (Microsoft Teams, Blue Jeans, Encore) or voting methodologies (ZOOM Poll, roll call, visual vote, email ballots). With respect to voting, some of these alternative options have associated risks.  For example, the use of a ZOOM or GoToMeeting Poll for voting is available to ALL participants on a call including non-voting attendees who may be present. In a recent AGM I supported, a ZOOM poll vote was conducted among 40 voting members, but 10 non-voting attendees were also present and five of them participated in the voting poll despite the chair’s instructions not to! Visual votes can be counted inaccurately, and roll call and email ballots are time consuming.  In addition, handling proposed amendments or procedural motions from the floor can be problematic with non-adaptive voting methods. That is not to say that these methods can’t work for your organization, but we generally recommend a more secure and accountable voting platform for online meetings.

A few interesting moments from the Virtual Roadshow have included the following:

  • The chair ad-libbing by singing the national anthem when the audio recording failed to work
  • A lot of proposed ‘friendly’ amendments (to avoid formal motions) that were not friendly (not unanimously endorsed by members)
  • In the middle of a presentation, another attendee failed to mute while standing right next to a motorcycle being started
  • A non-voting member sending a private chat message and asking me to discreetly add them to the voting list
  • Misinterpreted voting results by the chair, either by misreading the Simply Voting posted results, or due to lack of procedural knowledge (i.e. declaring a vote on a subsidiary motion to amend a bylaw main motion defeated with a 63% vote in favour – the motion to amend only required a majority vote whereas the main motion required a 2/3 vote)
  • A member intentionally flooding the chat box with aggressive copy-paste comments to thwart the meeting
  • A motion by Zoom Poll resulting in a 52% vote in favour of the motion; a member immediately called for division of the assembly (a proper counted vote) which resulted in a roll call vote and a subsequent recount of 56% opposed and the motion was defeated.
  • An unrecognized participant unmuting/interrupting and verbally berating a Board Director (they were swiftly and politely muted, and given a warning)

Of course, there have also been many instances of virtual first-time participants and we have worked with many sport leaders to proactively host preliminary meetings to familiarize attendees with the technology as well as the Simply Voting platform.  This has mitigated technological challenges, improved start times, and resulted in more efficient meetings.

Quite a few of our meeting partners have indicated that the virtual meeting (AGM, committees, other) may be the new norm for their organizations moving forward. They are saving time and money and they are discovering that despite their initial reservations, online meetings can go quite smoothly.  With a sound planning approach, the right technology in place, and a team effort to manage those platforms, the virtual meeting can be an effective way to mitigate business interruption and keep your members actively engaged.

“Working with SLSG on our virtual AGM couldn't have been easier.  Not only did they accommodate us on short notice, but they took the time to walk us through all the questions we had in advance so that we were confident that everything would go smoothly.  I felt that their preparation and expertise with the process allowed them to react quickly to everything happening in the meeting in real time, and that their support contributed to building trust in our brand. SLSG allowed us to focus on the meeting itself, rather than having to worry about the voting logistics. We ended up saving significantly by hosting virtually, and we'll definitely do it again.”
 Jill Richard - Executive Director, Curling Alberta

It’s been an action-packed journey thus far and I’m excited to see how we can continue to evolve and support sport organizations with their meeting needs. If you are interested in learning more about our virtual meeting support services, please contact Jason at JER@sportlaw.ca

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