By Ryan Flaim, Senior Vice President
With most companies practicing social distancing, many management teams will be conducting this quarter’s earnings call remotely. For most, this will be a change from the typical in-office setting and it is important to think through logistics ahead of time to minimize disruption and allow management to remain focused on the important task of providing investors with a business update in the wake of COVID-19.
Following are 10 tips for executing an effective remote earnings call during this unprecedented time:1. Pre-record or conduct a dry run. To minimize potential technical obstacles that are presented by executives being in multiple locations, the live call should not be your “test run.” Consider pre-recording your prepared remarks, which is a great solution that removes all possibilities of technical issues and allows management to focus their energy during the live call on answering investor questions. Depending on the conference call vendor, you will need to plan to record and approve the call at least a day or so in advance of the live broadcast. You will want to use a conference call vendor that offers multi-step approvals and verification to ensure the correct file is uploaded for the call. Alternatively, a dry run can be booked with your conference call vendor that allows you to test each speaker’s sound quality, practice speaker transitions for the prepared remarks and role play Q&A.
2. Set up a ‘real-time’ chat or video platform for management to communicate live during the call. Without the benefit of being in the same room to communicate, it is helpful to have a live platform set up for speakers and support teams to communicate. One option is to use the chat feature in the Q&A platform that most webcast vendors offer. Alternatively, you can set up a secure video platform to use written signs or hand signals to communicate via video (with the platform muted). Of course, with any live chat or message platform, you will want to practice ahead of time AND limit the number of people using the messaging platform as it can be distracting for the key speakers.
3. Establish a Q&A quarterback. Even with a communication platform in place, you should establish a “quarterback” to direct who will respond to questions not directed at a certain executive. In most cases this will be the CEO, but that can vary by company. Making sure you are on the same page going into the call will help the Q&A flow smoothly.
4. Take the call from the most stable line possible. In an ideal world, each speaker should dial in on a landline. If that is not possible, the decision to use a cell phone versus a computer-based connection comes down to where you have the strongest and most stable signal – as noted above, doing a dry run on the devices and in the location that will be used is extremely important to trouble shoot and test quality. Using a headset, wherever possible, will help with sound quality as well.
5. Take precautions to control background noise. This is perhaps obvious, but each speaker should do whatever they can to control the environment to limit background noise and interruptions from children, pets, etc. Each speaker also should mute the line when they are not speaking. (And of course, remember to unmute before speaking.)
6. Be prepared with a hard copy of the prepared remarks. To limit the chances of technical glitches, we strongly recommend that each speaker be prepared with a hard copy of their prepared remarks (versus reading from a screen.) Each speaker should make sure ahead of time that their home printer is working – this is not the time to assume and wait until 10 minutes ahead of the call to print only to find out you are out of ink or paper. In addition, version control will be particularly important to ensure each speaker is reading from the FINAL version of the remarks. A tip to manage version control is to include a “FINAL TO PRINT” mark on the top of the final document to eliminate any chance for confusion.
7. Have copies of support materials (slides, FAQs, financial tables, press release) readily available. Ideally these will be hard copies but depending on preference and style you can have these up on a computer screen as well.
8. Set up a Communication Line for speakers to quickly bridge back into the call. It is important to have plans in place in the event a speaker line drops off. Most vendors offer an option to add a communication line. The communication line is separate from the speaker line and provides a channel to quickly and seamlessly rejoin the call. Before the call starts, each speaker should have a backup phone connected to the communication line (muted). Should their primary line drop, the operator can very quickly bridge the speaker back to the call via the communication line.
9. Designate back-up speakers for the CEO and CFO. If a speaker’s connection is inaudible or they drop off and are unable to reconnect, it is helpful to designate a back-up for each speaker. For example, if the CEO drops off the call, the CFO should be prepared to pick up with the prepared remarks. Or if the CFO’s connection is compromised, the IRO or VP of Finance should be on hand and ready to jump in.
10. Practice, practice, practice. For an earnings call as important and unusual as this one, you truly cannot practice enough. We strongly recommend that each speaker spends time rehearsing their remarks on their own, as well as in multiple group reads. And, with the management team in separate locations, practicing mock Q&A sessions to role play who and how you will respond to tough questions will be invaluable.
In summary, through practice and the right preparation management teams can take on this unusual earnings season with confidence. If technical issues come up, by implementing the plans you put in place in advance, you will be better able to roll with it. Stakeholders understand these are extraordinary times and will appreciate your ability to move past glitches and remain focused on delivering the context and updates that they are eagerly awaiting.
Ryan Flaim is a Senior Vice President at Sharon Merrill. She has served as a trusted advisor to C-suite executives, IROs and in-house communications teams on a range of strategic communications areas, including investor relations, messaging, and internal communications. In both in-house and agency roles, she has led public companies through more than 40 quarterly earnings cycles with expertise in drafting executive scripts, press releases and earnings presentations; preparing management to respond to challenging investor questions; and managing the myriad of earnings call logistics.
Sharon Merrill helps companies execute flawless, message-driven quarterly conference calls. Contact us to discuss how we can help you communicate with your investors during this unique quarter.
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