Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't Be That Guy

As I may have mentioned in the past, part of my job and that of many other journalists is to attend the various public meetings that you would never wish on the guy who ran over your dog just after he finished burning down your house.

These meetings include school boards, local municipal meetings, special public hearings on developments, everything you'd rather not spend a few hours of your night or life in.

They're undeniably important and where I get a good amount, if not most, of my stories from, but I can't say they're my favorite things in the world.

When these meetings aren't boring, they're tremendously uncomfortable.

Remember how you used to cringe at Steve Carrell in "The Office?" That's what those meetings are at their unboring-est moments, with the huge exception that you don't get to laugh at Dwight's beet farm afterward or further delude yourself that you are the Jim in your own office.

When the meetings lean toward being classified as uncomfortable over boring is the only time when a lot of people show up. That's because they're pissed at something. And that's my cue that I'm going to have a bad night.

Here's an example of one of those pissed-off groups.
Since I'm the one that has to suffer through this stuff, staring at the floor or my notes because I can't possibly look at the suffering of other people experiencing this with me, I figured I could impart some advice on not being "that guy" who particularly embarrasses himself or his cause at the meeting.

- Laughing at someone else's point makes you sound like a psycho.
Meetings are predicated on order. Like Robert's Rules of Order, specifically.
In those rules, there's a specific, set schedule of who can talk and when. It's that way so that everyone can make a point in a full, cogent way.

If you're attending the meeting through your own free will (unlike me), you generally disagree with what a lot of people are going to say. But you have to let them say it. You'll have your own time to talk when people will let you say what you want. But you have to let others talk.

That's the "order" part of everything.

Cackling like this while someone talks about something you disagree with is just a little disconcerting.
Believe it or not, it even hurts your side a little, because it's a little hard for someone in the public eye to say, "Yeah, I agree with the gentleman giggling in the corner."
Additionally, yelling such classics as, "No," a sarcastic, "Yeah, right," or "Put it in front of your house, then," additionally come across as childish and impatient and also hurt your cause.

In one meeting, a man who was nervously fidgeting in a corner for most of the meeting suddenly started screaming as a township official was explaining an ordinance. The man was literally screaming.
He also sounded like Christopher Walken, which made it even weirder and crazier.

His point, which was about the water authority or something that didn't seem to warrant screaming, suddenly became less attractive to support.

So shut the hell up until it's your turn.

- This isn't Lincoln-Douglas. Keep it simple.
Above: Not you.
The average person going to protest the sidewalk being put on their property isn't a great orator, and most people that do get up to speak behave accordingly.

"That guy," however, believes that he can give the speech that will bring borough council to its knees, solve racism, end global terror and get that four-way stop sign he wanted so damn bad at the end of his block, all at once.

That speech, however comes across awkwardly, circles back to the same point he's only made a borderline case for approximately seven times, and features a lot of stumbling and mispronunciation.
I know there's a lot of information that needs to be spit out and it seems like there's not a lot of time to do it. But you can shorten it up. Believe me, I do it daily.

Flowery speech doesn't help, either. Most people tune that out because you're not using it correctly or it further highlights that you don't understand what's going on.

At a recent meeting, a man told a person sitting at the meeting table that he "sat on the throne of authority" and could stop the ordinance change he didn't want.
The man he was speaking to was the mayor and, while his opinion matters, he does not vote on ordinances.
All a person needs to do is quickly explain what's up, what they want, include an example or two of why they want it and why others would benefit, then get off the microphone. That's more effective than any JFK-esque performance they might dial up. It really is.
- This is not the crowd for your conspiracy theories.
Accusing a zoning board or school board of corruption, out of the blue, with your time at the microphone isn't going to get it done.

You have three minutes to talk. They have as long as they feel like. Generally, if they don't just ignore you, which is pretty effective in itself, they're going to rip you a new one with the two hours left in that meeting.

I've seen it done. I once sat through a PRESENTATION put together doing just that. There was a Powerpoint and video.
All because some lady decided to snipe in public comment with no actual grasp of what was going on.

If something happened, if there's a wrong to right, you need evidence, up to and including real paperwork or like 15 witnesses, because, otherwise, when you yell that a municipal representative is intimidating someone, people are going to wait till you sit down, say, "Well, that was weird," or "Did you see his hair?" move on, and hope you never approach the microphone again.
In summary, be respectful, follow the rules, remain concise and have some kind of proof of your point.
Don't talk shit and keep your shit together.
I'm not trying to discourage anyone from making public comment. There are a bunch of people who I've seen do it the right way who got the result they were looking for.
It's actually impressive when it's done right.
What I'm saying is make it less painful for everyone involved, because I'm the one who's usually involved.

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