ROWAN CLARKE, Investor Relations
With most of Australia being plunged back into lockdown, and the August reporting season about to merge into roadshow season, there is no getting away from the fact that virtual briefings and meetings are still the only way to connect with shareholders and investors. So in this blog we explore the do’s and don’ts of virtual meetings with investors, drawing on some of our own, and others, first hand experiences.
Be prepared and focus on scripting
It is important to bear in mind that the attention span of your shareholder audience will be shortened in a virtual setting, particularly in the height of reporting season. You are going to command their attention for an hour at most. When delivering the presentation in a briefing, it should go no longer than 20-30 minutes with the rest of the time devoted to questions. For this reason, it is crucial for presenters to focus on how they articulate their messages to ensure that it is clear and explained succinctly. Every said word must be well thought-out and delivered in purposeful way, so prepare a script and practice it. Presenters should avoid thinking that they’ll appear more authentic and ‘in the moment’ by speaking to dot points or notes. Even the best presenters can ramble, veer off topic or sound unprepared.
To keep presentations tight and focused, we find it useful to add an Appendix to the presentation material, so case studies and other commentary can be included to support the key messages. This reinforces that while the additional material may not be addressed on the day, it is nonetheless important for investors to have access to it and for management to be seen as open to providing material that will assist investors build their knowledge of the company.
Pay attention to the logistics
A virtual event can overcome many traditional logistical problems like coordinating travel plans and site visits. However, the logistics of a virtual event can create different hiccups that may not be thought about. Be sure to involve the IT department and/or virtual meeting providers early and make sure you understand all the technical requirements and timing of deliverables. Depending on your virtual environment, you may need to include some backup scenarios in case of a glitch, for example a back-up phone line dialled in to the conference system, or an alternate internet connection. Technical challenges can happen, and they are to be expected, however, taking proactive steps will minimise the impact of these unfortunate events.
Using virtual events creatively
Virtual shareholder events are often seen as cheaper alternatives to an in-person delivery due to the savings on travel and accommodation and the more efficient use of management’s time However, for many companies seeking to replace site visits and strategy days with something more creative, the level of planning and rehearsal required cannot be overemphasised. A 90-minute video, for example, can require an entire day of management’s time and 3-D fly-overs of facilities or mine sites can come with a price tag.
There are also situations where it would be ill advised to host a big-budget virtual investor event. If a company has been compelled to lay off a large proportion of their workforce as a cost reduction measure, then a big budget event may seem insensitive, to say the least.
Aside from such a situation, companies should start by asking what they are trying to accomplish in a virtual event, and then explore ways that the new virtual setting can do it better. For instance, pre-recorded videos can be used to showcase new products or to educate investors about a company’s industry and address commonly asked questions. These videos could then be used in other areas of the business, such as when inducting employees or developing new content for a company website or investor portal.
Leverage the Q&A session
In a live setting, it is difficult to know what questions will be asked. A virtual event adds an extra layer of complexity as the physical cues and feedback from your investor audience cannot be seen before Q&A, particularly during an audiocast. It is helpful to prepare multiple versions of the questions depending on who is asking them (shareholder, investor, media). If the questions come with a positive or a negative tone, management should be prepared to respond in a way that articulates the key points without buying into the emotion.
Where questions are being asked online whether on a Results call or an AGM, the moderator plays an instrumental role here. When questions come in via chat, the moderator controls and funnels those questions so that, if there are multiple questions on the same topic, they can be put together and presented to management in a way that is consistent with the company’s prepared answers. It is useful to have two fulfilling this role both of whom are aware of the expected questions and understand the content in case the moderator is not available on the day.
A virtual event can also provide scope for questions to be selected so that the initial questions asked are those most rehearsed and the ones that management want to ensure are answered correctly. This puts them on a more comfortable path to follow through with the rest of the Q&A session.
FIRST Advisers have helped managed the delivery of several virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessed the benefits they can provide when meeting in-person has been impossible. A well-managed virtual event has the potential to expand a company’s investor audience and pave the way for new stakeholders to attend. With shareholders demanding optionality in how they receive information, it is fair to say that virtual events will continue to play a role going forward.