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Editorial: Phone meetings require new skills

All of us are learning to do things differently under new rules due to the coronavirus pandemic. One area that is requiring new skills is for elected officials to hold telephone meetings.
As media we’ve participated in many phone meetings over the years and along the way we’ve picked up some helpful tips that can make a meeting run more smoothly.
When everyone is sitting in the same room there are plenty of visual cues. Body language, eye contact or even a raised hand. That person wants to speak to the issue at hand.
But meeting over the phone the visual portion is lost and the person running the meeting has to have new skills and deploy them.
Here’s some tips we’d like to offer:
1. Make sure everyone who joins the call announces themselves. Have one person ask, “Who just joined?”
2. Welcome each person as they come on the line to let them know their voice was heard. At the start of the meeting the clerk or secretary should list everyone who is online.
3. At the beginning of the meeting, the chair should encourage each person to identify themselves before they begin speaking and not to speak over one another. This will give all those listening to the meeting a better understand of who is speaking. Each time someone speaks they should announce themselves. “This is Joe and I’d like to ....”
4. All votes on motions or resolution must be conducted through roll call.
5. Speak loudly and clearly. Also make sure there is no background noise where you are. Washing dishes comes through loud and clear.
6. Ask people to mute their phones until they wish to speak. There is a button on cell phones for this. If someone is using a landline they need to press Star-6 to mute and unmute.
7. Patience is the key to conference call meetings. Without being able to see someone, giving them an extra second or two to finish speaking is recommended.
8. The chair for the meeting should require members to ask for the floor to speak. This is more common at higher levels of government but can be done by all. With the chair granting permission to speak, this should reduce the number of times more than one person is speaking.
To our township, city, school board and county board members we would also ask that every effort is made to allow for public participation. These meetings need to be held in as open of a forum as possible.
People should be able to keep an ear on what their elected officials are doing and have a chance to voice their approval or objection.
Let’s not let a virus kill the first amendment.

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