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After 144 Years, Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron Changes Tack and Goes Online

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What does one of Australia’s oldest yacht clubs do when, for the first time in its 144-year history, it can’t hold either its annual general meeting or committee elections in person?

For the St Kilda-based Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron (RMYS) in the midst of a Stage 4 coronavirus lockdown of the city, the only option for the AGM was video conferencing, which turned out to be ‘smooth sailing’ for its members.

“As part of our legal requirements, we have to hold an AGM and elections for our committee every year, and our 2020 meeting couldn’t be delayed any longer,” explained Matt Solly, General Manager of RMYS. “We realised it would be too difficult to manage participants on a normal video conference, and many of our members are an older demographic and less familiar with technology – so we knew we could be in for a challenge to put it all together.”

RMYS decided to use RingCentral Webinar, which would enable RMYS’s AGM conveners to control the proceedings while still giving RMYS members the opportunity to contribute and participate actively during the session. RingCentral Webinar gives the host and facilitator powerful control over the audio options, chat, content sharing, and participant management, features that are not available in standard video conferencing platforms.

There was still a lot of uncertainty in the lead up to the AGM about how the members would respond and take up the technology option, but a really positive sign was the 2020 elections held the week before, which for the first time were conducted online – using TrueVote. More than half of all RMYS members participated in the ballot, a much higher voter turnout than the club traditionally has for its committee elections.

The club prepared for the webinar with a couple of practice runs for the facilitator and panellists (including the RMYS Treasurer, General Manager and the AGM’s chair), with the webinar link and instructions sent to all members via email and posted to the members only online portal.

On the day (Saturday, 8 August), 150 members logged in and participated in the AGM, which was triple the number that typically attend these meetings. Matt Solly described it as an “extraordinary turnout”.

In addition to the normal proceedings, RMYS also virtually presented Peter (PJ) Davison with an Honorary Life Membership for his outstanding contribution to RMYS over more than 45 years, and David Allen with his 50 year membership badge which had been delivered to his home. Both men got the opportunity to speak about their passion for the club and sailing during the webinar. The AGM was also recorded, providing the club with a permanent digital record of the event.

The experience attendees for the webinar, which ran for nearly two hours, was clear and easy to follow, and feedback from the members was universally positive.

While the sudden transition to online was forced on RMYS through necessity, it has really opened the yacht club’s eyes to the possibilities of video conferencing and extending its connections and engagement with its members.

Originally published 08 Oct, 2020

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