From the Success Team: Best practices for hosting a virtual public meeting

Nationwide, agencies are transitioning to virtual meetings and many are left with guesswork when it comes to implementing best practices. Online public meetings require the same attention to detail as in-person meetings, and it’s important to understand and manage the expectations for participating residents. Regardless of your meeting topic, there are some universal best practices that we recommend.

The PublicInput.com virtual meetings toolkit can help you successfully engage your audience, capture and record feedback, and close the loop with residents.

Before you get started: Make sure you’re comfortable with your platform of choice. Whether it’s Zoom, WebEx, Facebook Live or YouTube Live, you should do a test meeting with your coworkers to ensure your meeting software is integrating as it should in the PublicInput.com platform.

Feeling stuck? No problem! We have a robust help library which includes articles on meetings and events, which is continuously being updated. You can also click the handy chat button on the bottom right-hand side of our website to speak with our team during office hours.

More of a night owl? That’s ok! Our chat box can suggest helpful articles 24/7. Feel free to ask questions, and our support team will answer you as soon as the workday begins!

First: When you’re ready to go live with your meeting, you may want to give attendees a quick “how-to” tutorial on engaging with the presenters. If you’re accepting questions, give attendees specific instructions for how they can submit those questions: via comments on the presentation page, phone, SMS, email, or in a live Q&A session during the presentation.  It’s best to err on the side of communicating these instructions too much rather than not enough.

Second: Manage expectations. Let your attendees know what to expect once you begin your meeting. A meeting agenda or overview will help participants understand who is hosting the meeting and if time is set aside for a formal presentation and/or overview of the topic. If you’ve told attendees how to submit questions, let them know when you’ll be accepting and answering their questions in the meeting, or how they can submit comments by phone.  You can preview this process by watching a short video here.

Note: If you have a prewritten agenda, it’s best practice to include that information as part of the project associated with your meeting. If you are a PublicInput.com partner, you can simply copy + paste that info into a content block on your virtual meeting engagement page, or drop in as a PDF.

Check out the agenda we’ve added as part of this project template

You can take control of the meeting and prevent hijacking by non-meeting presenters by hosting your meeting in a live stream. For example, you can live stream a WebEx meeting using Facebook live. Once you have a Facebook live video URL, simply plug it into your PublicInput.com meeting to create a secure virtual meeting, publicly broadcasted on an engagement page. This “Russian doll” method allows for open access while also protecting from hijacking or “conference bombing.”  Multiple presenters can take part remotely, while receiving questions and comments via a comment box. This approach also allows you to moderate comments while simultaneously adhering to records laws (FOIA) by keeping a record of comments and questions in relation to your live meeting.

Creating two rooms: public and access-controlled; PublicInput.com - Access control & public comment management with Cisco Webex, live streamed through facebook live or youtube; comments accepted by phone; Multi-channel public access - Protected meeting room

If you’re accepting questions, consider whether people can submit them prior to the meeting. PublicInput.com’s Meeting Mode allows you to accept questions any time before or during your virtual meeting.

Accept meeting questions and comments drop down menu: Don't accept questions, Accept questions during event, day of event, day before event, 2 days before event, 1 week before event, or always

Allowing questions prior to your meeting gives you additional time to address them more efficiently during the meeting. When soliciting questions during your meeting, you may need someone dedicated to fielding questions throughout.

Third: Consider your audio quality. In a virtual meeting, much like in a large room, your voice may not be audible to everyone. Consider using headphones, which place a built-in mic closer to your voice, to ensure that all participants – particularly those who may be hard of hearing – can understand you. Make sure that presenters speak clearly and slowly. When accepting questions from participants, either in real-time or prior to the meeting, make sure to repeat the question before answering it.

“The question was: Will the project be done during the day or at night?”

Fourth: You can present images in an online meeting the same way you might in a real meeting. If you have an existing slideshow, you can alternate between video of your presenters and slides. For participants who may be visually impaired, make sure you describe what’s on the screen. For example:

“This image depicts the proposed design for Main Street, adding one lane in each direction and new sidewalks.”

You can also create a survey project or project group (topic page), where you can present additional images and information to your meeting attendees. You can embed videos, photos, provide an opportunity for comments, and ask people to answer questions. All of these engagement opportunities allow you to keep your residents up-to-date during and after the event. 

Finally: Let attendees know what the next steps (e.g. we’re planning another meeting in a week to discuss the feedback we’ve received). You may also find it useful to direct meeting participants to a website – such as a PublicInput.com engagement hub – to provide more information or details about how they can submit additional questions or comments.

As an organizer, put yourself in the attendee’s shoes:

What is a challenge for you when you’re in a virtual meeting?

What would help you feel included, or help you understand the topic at hand?

Whatever you have experienced as a concern, address that while you’re setting up your meeting and make accommodations so your participants can have an inclusive virtual experience.

Here are some useful articles to help you get started:

Be sure to check out support.publicinput.com and our Meetings, events, an livestreaming resources if you need help! Our help articles are designed to support individuals across the spectrum of technical comfort. 

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