You’ve been tasked to video stream a council meeting. At first, it seems like an easy problem. Everyone uses popular platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to host online meetings. However, once you begin the process, questions pop up:
- Do I need a camera for each council member?
- Do I need a microphone for each council member?
- What AV equipment do I need?
- How do I run a virtual public meeting?
- How can the public make a comment?
- How do I control public comments?
- How does the council hear the public comments?
- How can those in attendance at the council meeting make a comment that those attending virtually can hear?
The list could go on. We serve over 340 municipalities and have received many questions about this topic during the last few months. Depending on the technology you use, this project can vary dramatically in scope and complexity.
Your goals for streaming a public meeting are also likely to vary. Do you want a better near-term option until residents once more become comfortable attending in person? Or are you looking to implement online public streaming permanently? Our clients fall into both camps, and your specific goal will influence the amount of time and money you likely want to invest. This guide will be helpful for either goal but is more geared toward creating a permanent solution.
In this guide, we’ll cover what technology foundation you need, how to choose the right platform, and tips on how to run a virtual public meeting.
Technology Foundation You Need for Streaming Public Meetings
Some IT departments or IT partners may have a lot of audio/visual experience. But many won’t. It’s a fairly specialized field. You may need to find an AV partner to outfit your council meeting room.
At a minimum, we recommend the following technology foundation:
You need microphones for each council member and a microphone for public comments from those in attendance. Speakers are also necessary so that in-person attendees can clearly hear virtual public comments. Finally, an audio mixer board is required to manage audio output for in-person and virtual attendees. This interface should plug into the computer (via a USB cable) that is hosting the online meeting. From there, a person can adjust sound levels for everyone and ensure that virtual participants can hear in-person attendees, and vice versa. With these items in place, virtual and in-person participants will be able to speak and hear all that is being discussed.
The council room will need at least one video camera that meets minimum requirements pertaining to HD resolution, panning, tilting, and zooming features. We recommend assigning a staff member dedicated to producing the meeting so that other staff members aren’t distracted from their jobs by having to troubleshoot video and audio issues.
It is not required, but a second camera adds a lot of value to remote participants. Multiple viewing angles results in a more engaging experience and a second camera should be strongly considered by municipalities looking to include remote participants long-term.
How to Choose the Right Platform for Streaming Public Meetings
Thankfully, plenty of streaming platform options exist. Your municipality may already be using one for internal meetings. However, it can be difficult to understand the pros and cons of each one and how they can help you hold a virtual public meeting.
These main categories will help you when considering which platform works best for your municipality.
Beyond obvious features like sharing one’s computer screen or the ability to message with chat during the meeting, you’ll also want to investigate any limits such as:
- Audio conferencing limits: It’s important to understand how the platform allows virtual participants to speak at the meeting.
- Meeting recording limits: In order to allow residents to view the meeting after it has occurred, you will want to understand how the platform records the video and how to move this video file to a video streaming service like YouTube.
- Webinar capacity limits: You will want to ensure the platform and tier of service you select offers enough virtual participant capacity to accommodate the number of residents you expect to attend virtually.
Ease of Use
Using popular platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom helps virtual participants more likely engage in your meeting. Additionally, these popular platforms offer plenty of training materials to review and teams of developers working to improve the product—removing any worry about you needing to upgrade software.
Handling remote participants can vary from platform to platform. Knowing how participants will call in and be able to speak is critical. Additionally, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how to mute and unmute participants to avoid any audio issues.
Because many cities and towns already have access to Microsoft Teams, we’ve found that platform to serve as a good starting tool if you want to begin streaming council meetings. It doesn’t require an additional investment in a new platform and it’s readily available (and free) for residents to use as well.
Tips for Running a Virtual Public Meeting
To run a successful virtual public meeting, take advantage of these tips to make things go more smoothly.
- Do a dry run through the whole process before hosting a live event. This will help you identify issues with the technology and discover steps you need to take that may not have been identified at the beginning.
- Assign a staff member to be the “producer” of the event. This person will operate the computer that is hosting the meeting and can control the second camera if necessary.
- This producer or someone else should also be in charge of handling public comments and answering any technical questions at the beginning of the council meeting to ensure participants are comfortable with the process.
- Work with your IT team to make sure the settings are properly configured for whichever platform you choose to ensure people may attend from outside your organization.
- Create proper policies about attending the council meeting virtually and ensure they are shared.
- A PowerPoint presentation with your municipality’s logo and imagery can be a nice visual at the beginning and end of the meeting.
What to Do Next
Involving your IT team in this process is very helpful. Together, you can work through the necessary technology, including a platform that meets your requirements, and then begin testing to work out the kinks. Inevitably, there will be new issues that arise as you work through this process, but many of our clients have experienced a much higher engagement rate from residents if they work through these issues and follow best practices.
Want to Talk About Your IT?
If you’re running into issues streaming a council meeting or anything else, we can discuss your needs. Fill out the form below and we’ll schedule an initial call to learn more about your municipality and how we might be able to help.