COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have prevented local governments from holding public meetings in the traditional in-person format. State governments have relaxed statutory open meetings act requirements to allow local governments to continue to hold public meetings virtually. Clerks, elected officials, administrators, and IT leaders are using innovative technology to maintain government continuity and open dialogue with their citizens.
If you are using video conferencing technology to lead internal or public meetings, follow our tips to ensure your virtual session happens professionally and smoothly.
Test the Tech
Familiarize yourself with your video conferencing technology before you host your first virtual meeting. While many tools are intuitive and user friendly, you should still strive to achieve a level of comfort with the interface and its basic controls before your meeting participants gather, and the clock is ticking. Work with some of your department staff members to hold a test meeting to ensure you feel confident before your live session.
The meeting cannot begin without the host, and if that’s you, then you should be logged in early so that when participants join, they will know they are in the right place at the right time. Log in at least 15 minutes in advance so that you have time to troubleshoot any connection, device, or software issues that may unexpectedly arise.
Prioritize Sound and Lighting
When well-executed, a virtual meeting can be just as professional and efficient as an in-person session. Ensure a high-quality presentation by situating yourself in a well-lit room. Ideally, the light source should be above or in front of you. Avoid being backlit, which will cast your face in shadow. Your participants want to see your face, and poor lighting quality will only serve as a negative detraction.
Also, test your sound quality. While many virtual meeting technology providers allow users to use their computer or mobile device’s speaker and microphone or dial-in from a separate phone, most operate in the best synchronicity when you use your device’s equipment. If possible, for best sound quality for you and your meeting participants, use wired headphones with a built-in microphone. If your meeting is more than a few hours long, the batteries on your wireless headphones may not last, which is why wired headphones are a safer option.
Mute Participants Upon Arrival
As the meeting host, many video conferencing technologies allow you to mute all participants. Familiarize yourself with this functionality. Learn how to identify participants who want to comment and then control their speaking ability individually. Otherwise, if a participant does not realize that he is not on mute, your broadcast may pick up background noise that could disrupt your proceedings.
We recommend requiring citizens to sign up in advance to speak during the public commenting portion of the meeting. By using a software with public commenting capabilities, citizens can provide feedback directly from the web portal where they are accessing the meeting. Accepting writing public comments also enables you to read comments aloud during a meeting should a citizen experience technical difficulty.
Password Protect Your Meeting
Unfortunately, there will always be those who want to use their technical knowledge to disrupt the public. With millions of people using video conferencing technology, some individuals have learned how to join public meetings and take control of the sound and screen share functionality for malicious intent. Protect the integrity of your meeting by password protecting it and sharing the password only with staff and public participants whom you invite or who have signed up in advance to take part.
Use an Integrated Agenda Management Software for Total Meeting Management
Cloud-based agenda management software systems like CivicClerk® allow individuals to create agenda items, review and collaborate on content, and send the finished documents to the clerk’s office digitally. Clerks benefit from having all of the agenda content organized in a centralized location and from having visibility into the status of individual agenda items. Cloud-based systems also don’t require that software be installed on users’ machines, so deployment and maintenance of the solution are painless for both the end-users and internal IT departments.By integrating your agenda management and video conferencing technology tools, clerks benefit from end-to-end meeting preparation and execution convenience.
Distribute Meeting Materials Electronically
Cloud-based agenda management systems allow clerks to quickly and easily create their meeting documents and distribute them to various groups such as elected officials, internal staff, and citizens simultaneously. Using an agenda management software system like CivicClerk with interactive Board Portal functionality allows elected officials to conduct their pre-meeting material reviews and make annotations from any Internet-enabled device.
Live Stream Your Virtual Meetings through CivicPlus Media
CivicPlus Media allows you to use custom live streaming configuration options in virtual meeting software solutions to push the virtual meeting to your Media live stream. Using CivicPlus Media also allows for the meeting to be recorded and made available for on-demand playback. This allows you to invite only the elected officials and key staff to the virtual meeting, but still allow the public to watch the live stream or recording of the proceedings. This also gives citizens one place to go to get all of your meeting content—they can watch the live stream, view the agenda and meeting materials, and even come back later to watch the recording.
CivicClerk and CivicPlus Media Combine for Full Transparency
Our CivicClerk clients have found success keeping participants engaged in meetings by using the virtual meeting screen share options to display such visual cues as:
- Information about the current discussion topic
- A timer for citizen comments
- Voting results
These features become even more powerful when paired with CivicClerk’s interactive Board Portal, which allows elected officials to submit votes electronically on agenda items. Many are using CivicClerk and CivicPlus Media to ensure the video from the virtual meeting is displayed alongside the meeting agenda and then including bookmarks and closed captioning as additional visual aids for citizens. Finally, the public comment feature of the CivicClerk and CivicPlus Media public portal allows citizens to fill out an online form that will email their comments to a designated email address.
For more information on the benefits of CivicPlus Media, our live streaming and recorded video technology solution, download our fact sheet.