The most common AV challenges in city council rooms.
City councils are all about efficient debate and good decision-making. Today more than ever, a qualitative audiovisual set-up of the city council room is essential to facilitating both. So, how do you make sure that every city council member can properly hear and be heard? Based on a survey we conducted among city councils over the last two years, we highlight the most common audiovisual challenges in city council rooms. And of course we introduce our insights on how to adequately tackle these challenges.
Contents of this article
1. Research shows: 75% of city council members can’t hear each other
2. Audio distribution: ceiling speakers vs. built-in personal speakers
3. Meeting recording to facilitate easy minutes creation
4. Broadcasting, webcasting, and streaming
5. Meeting moderation and decision-making
6. Brief demo: audio quality of a city council recording
7. Futureproof features & integrations
8. Scalability and ease to upgrade
Research shows: 75% of city council members can’t hear each other.
During research we conducted amongst city councils over the last two years, the number one challenge put forward was bad audio. More specifically, most respondents indicated hearing other council members at the other side of the table and be heard by the public is the number one problem during city council meetings.
The issue is clear: when 3 out 4 city council members indicate not being able to hear each other clearly, it is time to dive deeper into what causes these issues.
We found that in most cases it has to do with the type of audio solution put in place and the way the infrastructure is setup in the council chamber. On the following pages, we will discuss some of the major aspects that impact the audio quality in city council rooms.
Audio distribution: ceiling speakers vs. built-in personal speakers
Discussion of the items on the agenda is the most important activity during council meetings. That is why the most important task of an audio system is to make sure everyone hears and can be heard. In a lot of council chambers the audio system consists of several microphones, ideally one for each council member to capture their voice. In order to amplify the conversation, speakers are often installed in the ceiling of the council chamber.
The architecture of the room and building structure of the ceiling are very often a decisive factor for the positioning of the speakers. In a lot of cases this is not at the ideal position to create clear, intelligible sound toward the council members. Oftentimes choices are made to make sure the public can hear what is being discussed. This explains why a lot of interviewed council members and staff of city councils stated: “I can’t hear my fellow council members,” or “Can you repeat your question?”.
Distortion and feedback
As a natural reaction the audio level is being cranked up resulting in audible artifacts such as distorted audio or feedback as the loudspeakers are blasting into the microphones. Both effects are disastrous for the intelligibility and create a very unpleasant listening environment. Another common reaction people have when they feel unheard is raising their voice. By doing so the conversation can appear to be loud and even aggressive.
The alternative: a conferencing system with built-in personal speakers
Modern conferencing solutions have a different approach when it comes to lifting the voice of the person speaking. The sound amplification on conferencing systems is done in the microphone stations itself, as it contains a local loudspeaker. You can compare it to giving a musician a personal monitor mix of the band. Applied to city council meetings, this almost provides a direct feed into the council members’ ears, providing clear and intelligible audio.
As the distance from the built-in speaker towards the council members is limited, audio levels don’t need to be as high. The amplification is only there to support intelligibility, and not to project the sound to everyone in the room. This helps to provide a pleasant listening environment where all participants can get their message across in a calm manner. The end result : a more engaging discussion and increased overall meeting efficiency.
Meeting recording to facilitate easy minutes creation.
As city councils and similar types of meetings need to report about the decisions made, a recording of the meeting is often used to create the minutes of the meeting. Depending on the legislation, an audio-visual recording might even be an official record of the meeting without the need for written minutes.
A clean recording with intelligible audio is a must. A conferencing system helps to achieve this by making sure only the audio is captured of the persons speaking without the annoying sounds of people coughing, side conversations or shuffling papers.
Advanced built-in functions such as push-to-talk and request-to-speak (all available with the simple push of a button) help eliminate background noises in the recorded audio and in recordings. If a council member isn’t talking, his or her microphone isn’t on. So, no more coughing, sneezing, paper shuffling, sidebar conversations… show up in the city council recording.
In addition, the council member’s stations even enable document viewing (e.g., the meeting agenda) and electronic voting solutions. Speech-to-text integration facilitates the process of taking meeting minutes, enriched with automated metadata such as time stamps, speaker names, etc.
Broadcasting, webcasting, and streaming
There is a worldwide drive for government transparency and an open communication towards constituents on what happens with their tax money. In some countries an open government even needs to be assured for the meetings to be legal.
Whereas council minutes were already published and/or made available online to citizens, today city councils are going further. Audio and/or video recordings of council meetings are made available, or in a lot of cases the meetings can even be followed live or on-demand through various streaming and webcasting services.
The drive to stream public hearings and council meetings has only grown since the outbreak of COVID-19. Complete or partial lockdowns and social distancing rules made it difficult for citizens to follow council meetings in person. This is another reason why more and more city councils started to provide live or on-demand web streaming of their meetings.
Audio and video recordings become paramount
To do so and provide a view of the proceedings, intelligible audio and qualitative video is paramount. In order to in a lot of cases also means providing audio and video to the streaming service. Conference systems have all the tools and interfaces to automatically point cameras to the council members taking the floor. This takes away one worry for city clerk's so they can focus on the tasks at hand, conducting and moderating the meeting.
Professional conferencing platforms with built-in multimedia recording features have become a must-have in the up-to-date council room set-up. Audio from the council room is
captured and enriched with information on agenda topic, speaker, political party, and so on. At the same time well-positioned cameras automatically frame the councilman who is speaking at any given time, thus creating an easy-to-follow video feed of the meeting, that can be used for in-room and remote live streaming, web casting or recording.
In meetings with multiple participants such as a city council, it is often hard to follow who is talking. Especially for remote participants or live stream viewers. Therefore no modern council room conferencing system can do without a compatible camera tracking solution.
A camera tracking system uses a set-up with multiple shots and angles (wide shots, shots per seat or speaker, …) to let everyone see and understand each other in close-up. Easily installed and configured, such systems also offer additional options, such as creating talking heads.
With crystal-clear video, easy and automatic camera control, camera tracking enables a better involvement for meetings participants and viewers alike, resulting in a near face-to-face meeting experience.
Meeting moderation and decision-making
Due to various reasons (remote and hybrid meetings to comply with health and safety regulations, best practices with regards to transparent government and freedom of information just to name a few), setting up an efficient city council room is no longer just about audio. And while legacy systems date back to the time when audio was all that mattered, the newer conferencing solutions are multimedia-oriented and are built to really futureproof a city council room.
Electronic moderation and voting
It goes without saying that the goal for a city council meeting is to take the right decisions. In the case of remote or hybrid council meetings, this implies overcoming challenges when it comes to moderating and voting. Hurdles that can luckily be overcome quite easily with the use of conferencing solutions that have been developed with these specific challenges in mind.
Televic Conference’s solutions for moderated council meetings include smart features such as a request to speak function, a maximum number of active simultaneous microphones, and speaker lists and speech timers by individual or political party.
Voting is facilitated by the clear display of the order of business and a digital voting dashboard that allows the chairperson to start a vote, share the results with the participants and even view, save or print reports.
Ease of use for technical staff
Multimedia-based conferencing solutions also offer tangible advantages for the technical staff responsible for the set-up and management of the council room as a meeting
environment. As opposed to working with legacy set-ups, there are no more sliders or knobs to handle on an analog control panel. In terms of meeting management, everything is very easy and clean in a user-friendly graphical user interface.
Brief demo: audio quality of a city council recording
With conferencing systems – as with most other things – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. That is why we don’t want to withhold you this brief demo of a city council meeting being recorded with and without an advanced discussion microphone system. In this demo, the microphone system is combined with a YouTube closed captioning feature. Both can be used without external sound systems, or easily integrated with any existing audio system.
Futureproof features & integrations
As mentioned above, today’s advanced conferencing units offer built-in functionalities such as recording and camera tracking to support video conferencing and live or on-demand streaming and webcasting.
The council member’s stations even enable document viewing (e.g. the meeting agenda), participant registration and electronic voting solutions. Text-to-speech integration facilitates the process of taking meeting minutes.
Integration with remote platforms
As far as integration with remote platforms is concerned, streaming audio and video out of the meeting system to any platform becomes a piece of cake. And you can easily bring platforms like Zoom or Teams into the audio/video system’s interface, or even forget those platforms altogether and opt to use the dedicated, built-for-municipalities conferencing software that comes with the solutions.
Scalability and ease to upgrade
It will be clear to you by now that today’s advanced conferencing solutions for city council rooms are about much more than microphones and loudspeakers. The set-up can be as basic or complex as your specific city council room requires.
What these solutions do have in common, is they are all very flexible. They can be customized to meet highly specific requirements. And they can always be easily scaled up or down, upgraded with additional features and/or components.
If your situation requires so, your city council room’s audiovisual set-up can even be 100% wireless, easily dismountable and even transportable.
For more information, please visit televic-conference.com