Your Roles in the Council
Under legislation set out in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, councils can decide how they want to hold meetings. This can range from everyone joining remotely to everyone being physically present and any hybrid combination of the two. Police and Crime Panel meetings are governed by English legislation and may not have the same flexibility. Some council meetings are also broadcast so that they can be watched locally by the public, or anyone in the world!
For more information
Guidance from the Welsh Government about multi location meetings is available here.
Tips for participating in an online meeting:
Make sure you have appropriate equipment. PCs and laptops tend to provide a more physically stable platform. Headphones can help you hear more clearly; headsets will also cut out background noise or interference that you may not be aware of.
2. Meeting preparation
- Know how to join the meeting, practice in advance to check that you can join/take part in any tests or dry runs.
- Know how to adjust your settings such as microphone sensitivity and volume
- Know how to announce your presence if this is not done automatically.
- Know how to mute/unmute your equipment – this is very important.
- Know how to take part in any offline chats running alongside the meeting if these are to be used i.e. via text, email or online chats.
- Know how you will be called upon to vote, will there be a roll call or a voting app?
- Know how to prepare files and documents and share your screen so that you
can enable others to see documents or pictures.
- Know what to do if your equipment fails, have a phone number to hand to
call in case of technical difficulties.
- Fully charge your equipment, long meetings can take a lot of battery.
- Make sure that you have read and understand all the meeting papers, be ready with your contributions. The chair will assume that everyone has read any reports being considered and will be looking for observations and focussed debate.
3. Meeting participation
- Call in from a noiseless location where possible. Even if you can mute your equipment, while you are speaking, everyone participating in the teleconference can hear every noise that you, your children, your pets, and the birds in the garden are making.
- Make sure that you can view papers. If you are using printed copies, try not to shuffle them too much when you are unmuted. Remember that you can view papers by using a second monitor or splitting your screen. Papers can usually also be shared through screen sharing.
- Call from a comfortable position, as the meeting may take some time, have some water handy.
- Call in on time. Call in a couple of minutes before the meeting starts so that the meeting can start on time. Participants will know who is joining late. and when callers join or leave the meeting, this can be disruptive.
- Do not shout, adjust volume as necessary.
- Turn off any noisy gadgets such as mobile phones which may be distracting to you or other participants. These can also cause interference.
- Check that you can see and hear the chair of the meeting.
- Check that you can access and have the correct settings to hear any simultaneous interpretation.
- Focus on the business at hand. Make sure that your contributions are necessary and helpful for securing the outcomes that the committee is seeking.
- Remember that you should be the only person able to hear any confidential and exempt items being discussed.
- Make sure that you are in the centre of the screen by positioning your device or camera appropriately and look into the camera. Aim for a head and shoulders shot like a passport photo.
- If it is a formal or public meeting, it might look more appropriate to sit upright at a work surface rather than sitting on a sofa with a laptop on a coffee table, although ‘workspace’ at home can of course be limited.
- Consider your personal appearance, you will be on show throughout the meeting.
- Consider the background – some applications provide you with an option to blur the background, so no detail is shown. Your council may have a corporate background for you to use. If not, aim for a plain wall backdrop as your bookshelves or notice board may be distracting for other meeting participants. You may have confidential or inappropriate information on the wall behind you.
- Consider lighting, is there enough light for people to see you? Is the sun or artificial lighting blocking out your face?
- Ask family members to stay out of shot as people wandering about making coffee for example, can be distracting.
- Check how the chair will be calling on you to speak.
- Check how you will signify a wish to speak.
- If you are using the ‘hand up’ feature to ask a question, make sure that you switch it off when you no longer wish to speak.
- Remember that meetings, may be broadcast live or may be recorded and made available to the public on websites, so it is important to conduct yourself as you would in any public meeting.
- Do not leave the meeting until it is finished without notifying the chair apologising and explaining your reasons for leaving early.
Tips for participating in a meeting which is being broadcast:
- Be natural and be yourself!
- When you are speaking, be direct, to the point and as concise as possible.
- If you are physically present, be aware of the range of the camera view as talking with colleagues, eating, adjusting clothing can be distracting if it is behind the member who is speaking.
- Prepare your contributions in advance (bullet points which enable you to speak.
- Be aware of how your messages could be interpreted by the public, both what you say and how you say it.
- You may have to be clearer about some of the information that you give so that it is clear to a lay person what you are doing and why you are doing it. A good example of this is declaring interests. It will be helpful to say not only that you have an interest but what the interest is, whether it is personal or prejudicial and also how you intend to act as a result.
- Avoid jargon – this applies to officers too!
- Heckling doesn’t work well on a webcast as it is only the chair and the member who has the floor who can be seen and heard. Other comments are often unintelligible as they are off microphone.
- If you are in the chamber, make sure that you are in range of the microphone and keep your head turned towards it. Don’t speak until your light comes on, or the first part of your contribution will be lost! Make sure that you turn your microphone off when you have finished speaking.
- Be aware of how what you say could be used by the media.
- Bear in mind that you are subject to the law of Defamation.
Although participating in meetings remotely can seem less onerous than physically travelling to a venue, virtual meetings can bring different challenges. Participating in a traditional meeting allows for social contact and changing your viewpoint. Focussing on a screen for long periods can cause eye strain and headaches. Intense concentration can be mentally tiring. Inactivity can result in muscle or back pain. Members may wish to consider the following to avoid these problems:
- Arranging informal catch ups with other members and officers between meetings to maintain relationships outside meetings
- Scheduling regular breaks between meetings
- Moving regularly even if it’s only to run up and down stairs or empty the washing machine
- Setting an outdoor exercise period each day
- Staying hydrated
- Taking your eyes off the screen regularly, maybe doing eye exercises
- Setting up an ‘official’ workspace which has a comfortable chair and which you can get away from when you are not working
At some point in their careers, all councillors will find themselves chairing a meeting. This will either be online, in a committee meeting room or in a community venue. Many of the meetings you chair will be formal committee meetings or ‘task group’ meetings with officers and/or partner agencies involving a range of public, private and voluntary sector agencies.
Find out more about chairing meetings by clicking the link below.