Louise Saks Parliamentary Unit

To learn & practice effective management of organizational meetings. Member of MSAP & NAP


Parliamentary Tips of the Week, Gretchen Denton, Past President   (Posted individually in right-hand website column and on the LSPU Facebook page.)

Read papers before meeting.  Don’t try to catch up by reading papers during the meeting, whether you do it electronically or by hard copy. While many papers deserve little more than skimming, hidden in their midst may be some important proposals that need careful consideration.

Practice making motions. Before you tackle debate on a significant proposal, learn how to address the chair and speak by making a simple motion or requesting necessary information. Even saying “Second” from your seat helps you prepare to participate fully.

Speak sparingly. “Don’t put your dog in every fight.” Speak in meetings when you need but don’t monopolize the meeting with your comments. Even if people like what you say, they will tire of your opinions and when you have something very important on your mind people will brush it off with, “Oh, it’s her/him again.”

It’s a gavel, not a hammer. The presider doesn’t need to hammer home every motion. One tap of the gavel opens the meeting and one closes it and you can tap it once before and once after a recess. Though it’s theatrical, pounding a gavel is NOT the way to get order in an assembly either.

Paint a calm scene on your screen. If you’re getting edgy and tense in a meeting, stop and take a breath. Visualize a calm scene that allows you to collect yourself before proceeding. Your calm scene might be a gentle waterfall, ocean waves, sunrise in the Rockies, or a rainbow, anything that soothes you.

Take notes. I like to have a pen ready to mark up my agenda especially when I’m presiding. Others use sticky notes or notepads; no matter how you do it, jotting reminders, names, ideas will make your post-meeting follow-up easier.

Listen to speakers. It is so easy to be distracted during a meeting even when you are presiding. “What are we going to have for dinner?” “Why does she always whine?” “ Who is next in line?” “My feet are tired.” Stay in the moment and listen to the person talking. Pay so close attention to their view that you could explain it when the person has finished speaking.

Presider speaks in third person. While it feels strange, a presider presides in the third person. “The president recognizes…” not “I recognize the speaker at microphone 3.” Why? Because the assembly focuses on the business at hand, not the personality or the preferences of the presider whose sole duty is to maintain impartiality and decorum in the assembly.

Find the bylaws. It’s surprising how many organizations don’t know where the bylaws are or what is the most recent version of the bylaws. When a significant question arises such as “How many terms can an officer serve?” people depend on vague memories instead of going to the best source of information, the bylaws. If there are various dated versions, use the most recent copy. If dates are missing it is essential for an organization to select the official copy by vote.

Speak slowly. Public speaking isn’t easy for many. A natural nervous response is to speak fast in the hope that your speaking time will go quickly or, if you are reading from a script, you know what you plan to say so you read faster than people can comprehend. Remember, a listener needs time to process what is being said so slow down!

Make friends with the assembly. Yes, it’s important to be a neutral presider or to believe what you are saying if you have the floor to speak on an issue but think about your tone and how your words may either encourage others to join your cause or may create a barrier that unknowingly limits your effectiveness at this meeting and in the future.

Keep track of time.  A presider’s best friend is a clock on the wall that they face but in the absence of that, an accessible watch or phone can be on the podium. If the assembly has trouble with long-winded speakers, establish by vote limits on each speaker that is less than the Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised ten minutes. Have a timekeeper who keeps track of speakers or how much time is being spent on a topic.

Write a script. Meeting language doesn’t come naturally so help yourself by writing a meeting script. Of course, in conventions this word by word plan is essential. In smaller meetings a presider can often work from a basic script that includes agenda headings and the right words to introduce the next item. “The next item of business is…” as well as the language for calling for a vote or announcing voting results.

Enlist a parliamentarian. Maybe somebody in your organization is skilled as a parliamentarian and is known for their knowledge and impartiality. A parliamentarian’s task is to help the presider do a fabulous job by providing answers when there are questions about procedure. Most good parliamentarians assist only when asked and otherwise, sit quietly observing the meeting. Unless the presider requests that the parliamentarian speak to the whole assembly, a parliamentarian does not speak or publicly share their opinions.

Don’t put your dog in every fight. As a member of an organization there are times to take a stand. Go ahead and put your dog in that fight. On the other hand, not everything that goes on in a meeting or organization is worth your time and energy. You simply cannot do everything so decide, “Is this issue so important that I must take a stand here and now?”

September 15, 2016 – More Tips

Stand Up!   It’s important to rise when speaking in large meetings.  If you want to speak, stand up, address the chair when nobody else is speaking, “Madame/Mr. President.”  The presider will recognize you by stating your name or nodding and only then can you proceed.  Standing gives you presence; people can hear you; it’s meeting manners.  Unless you are presiding, it’s generally bad manners to stand during meetings.

No Names Please   Meeting decorum is different than regular conversation.  If you are debating a subject, address your remarks to the presiding officer even though it seems awkward.  When speaking, members should address officers by their titles,“Treasurer,” “The Bylaws Chair” for example, and should avoid using other members’ names, saying instead, “The previous speaker…” or “It has been mentioned…”.  Avoid using person’s names in debate.

What is a Majority?   A majority is more than half, not one more than half.  The definition matters in the following example.  Nine members vote, 5 in favor and 4 against.  Why is that a majority?   One-half of nine is 4.5 and a majority is more than half or 5.  However, if you define a majority as one more than half, a majority would be six because you would add 1 to 4.5 to get 5.5, rounded up to six.  A majority is more than half.

One at a Time   One item of business is considered at any one time and one person is speaking at any one time during a meeting.

Don’t Interrupt   Something that blocks people from participating in meetings is knowing when to speak.  Is this when I make a motion?  Is this when to mention the heat in the room?  Is this when we correct the minutes?  A rule of thumb for a person planning to speak is this:  Don’t Interrupt!  There are few times when you can interrupt; they are rare and even then, should be used only if urgency requires it.

A Good Start   An enthusiastic newcomer joins an organization.  Immediately the person offers to serve on a committee or two where they toss out fresh ideas.  New ways can be wonderful but let them try managing a small task before giving them a big job—they may be idea people who don’t follow through or they may like the center stage but not the hard work.  If you are the newcomer, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew!”

February 21, 2017

Read your bylaws.  When questions arise such as “How long can officers serve?,” “How can you change the bylaws?”answers are in the bylaws.  You don’t need to rethink what’s already been decided—just read the bylaws.

Pay attention. If you are reading e-mails or responding to texts or planning the night’s dinner menu, you can miss what’s happening right now, so stay attentive in the meeting.

Enjoy the give and take. While there are very critical issues to consider, sometimes it’s a good idea to sit back and notice the ideas that are being presented, to really listen to the surface and underlying issues, to appreciate the joy of democracy that encourages free expression of ideas.

Find a friend.  Are you intimidated in groups and afraid to speak on issues that are important to you?  Find a friend who will support you, who will talk to you during breaks, who will accept the value of your ideas even when you do not agree on everything.

Get the facts.  Before you speak on a topic try to get the facts on an issue that you know will be discussed.  During the meeting, if you don’t know the facts, you can make a “request for information” and then listen to the answer.  Don’t embarrass yourself with remarks that have no basis; read what is provided before the meeting; seek clarification when new information is given.

Be concise. Rehearse your remarks if you are planning to speak on an issue so you will be be brief, be clear, and be seated.

Expand your horizons.  To grow in your leadership ability take on new tasks and then do them as well as you can.  Seek the advice of skilled leaders; try serving on a committee or leading a small group within your organization; become an officer and attend training sessions.

May 25, 2017

Don’t debate the debate.   When there’s a motion to stop debate (by someone saying “I move to call the previous question.”) … there is no debating whether or not to end debate immediately.  You stop debating and take a vote on whether or not to “call the previous question.” If the motion passes by a 2/3 vote then you proceed to vote on the item of business with no debate.

Taking Away Rights.   It requires a 2/3 vote to take away the rights of members, one of the rights being the right to speak in a meeting.  So, to stop or limit debate it takes a 2/3 vote and to properly take a 2/3 vote members should be asked to stand so the presiding officer can see the results.

Do I have to vote?   No, in volunteer organizations you don’t have to vote even though it’s a basic right of members.  Neither do you have to say why you are not voting.  Most votes are counted based on the number present and voting though there are exceptions.

What is a quorum?   A quorum is the number of people who must be at a meeting to conduct business.  The quorum is usually described in the bylaws as a statement like this: Ten members shall constitute a quorum and is not the same as the number actually voting.  If your bylaws do not name a quorum, the standard according to parliamentary law is “a majority of the entire membership.”  Often, it’s better to have a lower number than a majority of the membership.

How long can I speak?   According to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th. ed.) aka RONR, each member can speak twice for ten minutes on any item of business.  Obviously, it’s important for an organization to establish lower time limits!   Hardly any speaker needs ten minutes at a time and most listeners are happy when there’s a two or three minute time limit.

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