Though certainly much less serious than the other implications caused by Covid-19, I think it is safe to say, that after a year of lockdowns and work from home, no one really wants more virtual anything!
Least of all another private equity fund virtual annual general meeting (VAGM)!
But, if left with no other option than another VAGM, here are, based on my own experiences over the last year, a few suggestions to potentially improve the experience.
Three ways to improve virtual AGMs
Adapt the format of the AGM to the media
Allow for questions
Keep it “live”, and if it is pre-recorded, or being recorded, say so in advance
1. No, VAGMs are not as exciting as Netflix or going to the cinema
This holds true, no matter how exciting the host GP thinks their AGM is. And it means that the "old-fashioned" way of four to six hour marathons with continuous sessions of 45 - 90min each, do not work!
But adapting the format might help make it a bit more interesting, ensure higher quality, better takeaways, and retention.
Zoom fatigue is real, so keep it short!
Even if “just” two hours, it is two hours of monologue and of staring at a screen - something we all do too much of these days.
A VAGM is not riveting, only rarely inspiring, and only just slightly better than online compliance training (which has the dual advantages of a captive audience and often being mandatory).
Focus on the most important parts
With no networking or lunches / dinners / drinks a VAGM is about conveying information to the LPs. How are the companies and funds doing. Team and platform development. And other critical information.
The VAGM presentation is not necessarily the AGM deck
Have a shorter and more focused presentation for the VAGM. Have one good slide per company and per fund. Focus on overviews and key information. Consider having another longer presentation with more detailed information that LPs can flip through on their own and read in detail as needed.
Some participants will be on small screens or just listening on a phone
So, make the VAGM presentation easy to read and follow on screen and send the presentations well in advance. This allows LPs to prepare and potentially make printouts to take notes on – yes, some LPs in fact still do both!
Make it “modular”
By all means have a short 5 minute opening overview of everything. But after that, break it into digestible focused modules that follows the agenda and the timing of the VAGM.
This allows an LP to “pop” in and out, and not have to sit through information on a prior fund or a strategy that may not be relevant for them.
Leave the GP / LP entertainment part to the end
These are key-note speeches, economic overviews, “themes”, and anything that is more akin to marketing, etc.
Not that this is not potentially interesting. But in this way, in line with the above point, LPs have the option of jumping off when they have the most important information in regard to firm and portfolios.
Just as for a real AGM, invest in hosting the VAGM
MS Teams are great for many things, not for a VAGM. Find and invest in a state of the art platform for hosting a VAGM or a webinar. Potentially get an outside professional firm involved to help.
Allowing for Picture in Picture, switching seamlessly back and forth between speakers and offices does much to keep the VAGM “lively” and interesting.
Like a “real” AGM be discerning about who is invited
As pleasing and potentially ego-inflating, as it seems to have 100s if not 1000s of potential LPs signed up, this does not mean they actually turn up or are serious about a GP.
It is just as easy for an LP to sign up and not turn up as it is for a GP to invite the whole world.
It is also necessary to ensure things like the platform for the VAGM and the bandwidth facilitates the number of participants. VAGMs don’t work well if the technology stalls or crashes!
2. LPs are partners, let them ask questions
By not allowing anything but either pre-submitted / pre-vetted questions or no questions at all, GPs are effectively shutting out their partners. This does not exactly create a sense of partnership or reflect self-confidence.
In fact, it can easily been seen as the opposite - LPs are along for the ride, so please sit back and keep quite, while we tell you how great we are. Also, we are not ready for / open to any kind of scrutiny.
Given the nature of their business, GPs can be oddly thin-skinned / control freaks when it comes to questions, let alone pointed questions. But, sorry, questions are part of running an AGM, virtual or not!
Leave enough time for questions, and answer them as would be normal at an AGM. For those questions that require more in-depth answers and / or are more particular to one LP, follow up subsequently - as for a normal AGM.
3. Most great events are live!
While having the clear advantage of avoiding any technical glitches, a recorded VAGM, aside from not allowing for questions, risks, if not announced as being recorded, adding insult to injury as an LP potentially gets up early / stays up late / moves meetings to “tune in”.
If being recorded, say so in advance. That may risk LPs not watching. But the alternative is that LPs don’t watch anyway and get annoyed at having gotten up early / sat up till late / moved meetings to watch, only to find It was a recording.
Yes, LPs are also thin-skinned and many additionally have a keen sense of entitlement!
Make it live, and If there is a glitch, that may well be the one VAGM that is memorable among all the noise!
Some GPs have done really well in adapting their format. But, before you think you have and the above does not apply to you, try sitting through your own recorded VAGM!
Doing this requires effort. But with so much noise out there, it is, even for those GPs for who fund raising is a “one and done”, a worthwhile effort.
If In doubt what to do, take a look at an Apple event and / or watch a couple of Ted talks.
And if not done, probably best not to look at the “ratings”!