What could have COP26 learned from virtual AGMs?

The debates around the 26th UN Climate Change (COP26) summit in Glasgow this year haven’t just centred around net zero targets. Questions are also being asked about whether the meeting could have been held online.

This would make sense given the amount of carbon required to fly thousands of people across the globe to the summit. While a virtual meeting setup using an alternative solution was trialled in June, issues meant the event struggled to give all of the attendees, including those from developing nations, the ability to have their voices heard. As a result, many insisted that the event in Glasgow must be held in-person to give everyone an equal voice.

In principle, this makes sense. The idea of virtual and hybrid meetings is to use technology to increase access and participation, not cut people out. But the example of COP26 is a unique one, and ultimately the requirement for countries with limited resources to attend in-person and share their first-hand experience of climate change was seen as too great. There is evidence that the physical attendance of developing nations can help to deliver change at these unique events, as seen with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

However, this doesn’t mean that the idea of virtual meetings is wrong – rather that running a successful meeting online or in a hybrid format needs careful consideration and planning and, in some cases, a culture change. This week, Brighton councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty has caused uproar by catching a plane from London to Glasgow to attend COP26, after previously criticising the government for a “lack of action” over climate change. While Mac Cafferty obviously believed the best way to lobby for change was in person, this might not have been the case. Thanks to hybrid technologies, the councillor may have been able to make his point on environmental activism whilst simultaneously demonstrating his own commitment to fighting climate change. On the issue of environment, as with so many of the profound challenges facing our world, it’s critical to put your money where your mouth is.

For complex meetings such as COP26, organisers should invest in robust technology solutions that address the specific needs of a meeting, such as rotating time zones to accommodate global attendees and timing parameters to ensure all speaking slots are even.

Done right, our data shows that virtual and hybrid meetings help to increase attendance and participation – virtual AGMs this year saw double the engagement compared to solely in-person ones. Here are the key elements that businesses need to consider to make virtual meetings a success.

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Keep it secure

The security of company meetings and conferences is paramount, not only due to the potentially sensitive nature of the discussions, but to ensure the robustness and accuracy of voting and participation from attendees.

When selecting a virtual or hybrid meeting software, businesses should look for solutions that have been independently approved and penetration tested by third parties, as well as running from a secured, encrypted network. This reduces the risk of a cyber security issue arising with your meeting.

Who’s on the list?

We have all had near-misses with joining the wrong meeting links in a rush. While this is acceptable for internal meetings, any event that features sensitive information must be robust in preventing unauthorised individuals attending.

Businesses should look to use secure solutions that use pre-event authentication. Make sure each member is supplied unique login credentials – based on information like a registered email address – together with a password, to enable them to securely authenticate into your meeting.

This means only the members, shareholders, or attendees that should attend can access the event, removing the possibility of unwanted visitors at the meeting. For events that require registered voting, such as AGMs, authenticating stakeholders ensures that only those eligible to vote are able to do so (as well as correctly weighting the votes based on specific shared owned).

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Make it simple

It is important for businesses to remember that not all attendees invited to a meeting will be tech savvy. Therefore, the process of accessing the online meeting should be carefully considered. Where possible, businesses should avoid opting for a one-time use app, as this process can present challenges for those with older operating systems on smartphones.

Instead, companies could organise access to their meeting via a single point of entry, or sharing a direct URL within the notice of meeting shared to attendees.

Whichever option is chosen, accessibility for all attendees must be front of mind, and this process needs to be factored in at the early stages of planning to ensure maximum attendance.

Say hello to hybrid

A hybrid event can be the best of both worlds for some organisations, blending in-person attendance and virtual participation. A popular way for a hybrid setup to be achieved is through live-streaming, as this can allow for a larger audience to take part in meetings than would have been available to attend in-person.

However, this model is only as successful as the conference technology enables it to be. Businesses must assess the venue’s technology capabilities ahead of the event, to ensure it has the required audio, visual and connectivity features to successfully stream the meeting.

If opting for a hybrid event, businesses must think carefully about using technology solutions that work for attendees who are in the room as well as for those online. For events such as AGMs, where voting and question and answer sessions must happen from a compliance perspective, businesses must make use of platforms that facilitate this engagement.

With these considerations in place, businesses across the globe have run meetings that have exceeded the expectations of attendees, whether they are in the room or joining online. As this becomes the norm, COP26 may well be the last in-person Climate Change Summit we ever see.

Written by Marc Harper, CTO of Lumi

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