The complexities of a typical school board meeting make it challenging to livestream and record. A standard board of trustees consists of between five and nine members — that’s already a pretty big group, but usually, there are even more presenters.
Most meetings also include presentations by the superintendent, other district administrators, principals, teachers, parents and students. Each presenter needs to be heard and seen by those in the meeting room and the audience watching remotely. This results in the need for multiple microphones and potentially multiple cameras, which adds complexity to the production.
Larger school districts may have a dedicated board room with permanent audio and video equipment — your district is probably not so lucky. In this article we’ll explore how to overcome the challenges of live streaming a school board meeting on a limited budget.
Audiences can view school board meetings in three ways: attend the meeting in person, view a live stream remotely or watch an on-demand archived presentation after the meeting concludes. In each of these examples, clear audio is critical.
Let’s start with the audio needs of those attending in person. If the size of the meeting room is large enough, there might be a public address (PA) system already set up for the benefit of the audience.
You might be tempted to use the camera’s mic to pick up the PA sound. This low-tech option will not result in the best audio quality and is almost sure to pick up annoying unwanted sounds. If you try this method you can minimize unwelcome sounds by positioning the camera as close as practical to the PA loudspeaker.
A better solution involves making a direct connection to the PA system to pair the PA audio with the video. Using an existing PA system could offer an easy audio solution, but what if the meeting is small and takes place in a classroom that doesn’t need a PA? Read on.
Multiple Mic Challenges
The biggest audio challenge involves the number of mics required. A typical board meeting could require seven to 12 mics, or more. It is not tenable to have a large number of mics turned on simultaneously.
Audio quality decreases as the number of activated microphones increases. Unwanted sounds will surely infiltrate the audio — whether it’s the sound of a cough, a paper shuffle, the landscape maintenance staff outside or a loud air conditioner — and these noises will quickly annoy an audience. It’s always best to activate the fewest number of microphones possible.
A simple way to handle multiple mics is to use ones with an on/off switch that can be toggled by the presenter. You’ll need a basic audio mixer to manage the mics. This is not a perfect solution, since speakers will inevitably forget to switch the mic appropriately. A better — yet pricier — solution is an automatic mixer.
The automatic mixer does its magic by only activating mics that are actually being spoken into by a presenter. In a board meeting, usually just one or two people talk simultaneously, the automatic mixer will seamlessly turn on the appropriate mics while keeping the unused mics off.
Depending on the layout of the room, you might be able to get away with one strategically-placed camera. Your audience isn’t expecting a Hollywood experience, so they will likely put up with a camera that abruptly moves from one presenter to the next. But, what if one camera cannot possibly cover all the action in a large room?
Devices called video switchers, or video mixers, do the magic of seamlessly switching between multiple cameras. Some video switchers also mix audio and offer an attractive all-in-one solution for video streaming.
Alternatively, you can eliminate the need for multiple camera operators by using remote control cameras which use a joystick to quickly point them. This makes it possible for one person to control the entire process.
Make sure that the room has adequate lighting – more light is usually better. Avoid mixing indoor and outdoor light because this can result in video with inaccurate color. Close the window blinds behind presenters to avoid distracting backlighting.
Streaming and Hosting
Before video streaming was a “thing,” it was common to broadcast public meetings on a community access cable channel. Some districts still use this method, but today we have more choices.
Zoom is a popular choice for many districts because it makes remote participation possible and runs on most modern computers, tablets and phones. Other video streaming choices include YouTube, Facebook, Google Meet and some fee-based options.
SchoolTube offers free hosting of archived meetings. Unlike YouTube, SchoolTube maintains a 100% student-friendly environment by avoiding unwanted distractions and possible age-inappropriate comments.
Adding legally required ADA captioning to recordings is easy on the SchoolTube platform. Check with your school district’s legal counsel to make sure you are following all requirements.
Finally, consider using students in the video process. Student workers can learn valuable lessons about production and the governance process that directly affects them — win, win.