Annual General Meetings

A company’s annual general meeting (AGM) is supposedly the main way in which shareholders call a company to account. All shareholders are eligible to attend an AGM or to send someone on their behalf (a proxy), and all shareholders can in theory use the opportunity to publicly question the directors about how the company operates.

Asking a question at an AGM is a good way of making your concern known more widely. You will be surrounded by other shareholders and may find allies. Many AGMs are attended by the financial press, which means your question may be reported further afield.

The public nature of the AGM means that there will be more pressure on the directors to deal with your question or to offer to speak to you privately, which you should be prepared to take up. If you are not satisfied with the company board’s response to your question, consider asking a follow-up question or continuing the dialogue with a follow-up letter.

There is no guarantee that everyone who wants to ask a question will be allowed to do so. The floor is given to shareholders at the discretion of the chair, who selects from among those wishing to speak. In some companies, shareholders are asked to submit written questions on arrival and are then called in order.

Once the formal business is over, most companies put on a reception that directors attend, providing another less formal opportunity to make your point.

If you plan to ask a question at an AGM, be prepared. Speaking at a large public meeting can be nerve-wracking, so it may help to have your question written down or some brief notes. It can also help to include some – although not too much – background information, because not everyone will be familiar with the issues you raise.

Don’t worry if you feel nervous at the idea of speaking at an AGM. Share Action provides training for people new to AGMs, which will also help you to understand how they work. If you’re with a group of people, you can all support each other. Remember that you have just as much right to speak as any other shareholder there.