Groans, Gaffes and Nursery Rhymes Add Humor To Virtual Public Meetings
In this era of social distance and working from home, almost everyone has experienced bad moments in virtual meetings. If you're lucky, not many people see your stumbles.
But for public bodies, there’s an audience for the bloopers that occur at the intersection of human frailty and technical glitches. (If you'd like to hear some of them, use the audio link above.) And those audiences can be large, as the coronavirus fuels interest in public policy and people working from home stream meetings during the work day.
For instance, 600 people were waiting patiently for a virtual meeting of the North Carolina Board of Education in April. The first words they heard were “Aw, crap. Really?” Right after that, the feed went dead.
And, of course, there are the phrases that have become a sort of theme song for remote meetings, countless variations on "you're muted" or "we can't see your slides."
Just last week, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners had a bad technology day where people were cutting in and out.
The odd thing was, some participants couldn’t hear each other, even though the audience could. That led to Commissioners Chair George Dunlap repeatedly interrupting County Manager Dena Diorio to say no one could hear her, while others thought Dunlap had dropped off.
As multiple voices asked about who was still in the meeting, a singsong voice emerged chanting, "Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie. Kissed the girls and made them cry."
But it would be hard to top the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board’s marathon Zoom meeting in mid-May. When Chair Elyse Dashew called for a recess after almost three hours, some members didn’t realize they were still streaming on Facebook.
The normally proper Margaret Marshall let out a thunderous groan as she rose from her seat at home, announcing "I get a five-minute recess!" as Dashew giggled and told her to mute.
As members returned, Rhonda Cheek knew she could talk to her colleagues, but didn’t realize the public was still watching. She announced that she wanted to find a way to load "a fake Rhonda face ... like the one that looks interested and gives a poop anymore."
Both Cheek and Marshall owned up to their gaffes on social media.
And it’s probably good to have some moments of humor, because public bodies are spending long hours trying to solve thorny problems, balance budgets as the economy crashes -- and ultimately do their jobs without risking anyone’s life.
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