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Part IV

MEETINGS AND STRATEGIES

Chapter 16 - Meetings

A meeting, as defined by Robert's Rules of Order, is a single official gathering of the members of an organization in one room, with a quorum present to transact business. The members do not leave the meeting, except for a short recess, until the business has been completed or the chair declares the meeting adjourned. This chapter covers the many types of formal meetings (including conventions and mass meetings) and informal meetings (small board and committee meetings), and it discusses the pros and cons of electronic meetings. It also explains how to manage and evaluate meetings and how to form strategies - and counterstrategies - for meetings.

THE BASICS

All meetings, regardless of size or purpose, have some things in common:

Most organizations have both formal and informal meetings. A formal meeting is one in which the entire membership meets to hear reports of officers, boards, and committees, and to propose business, discuss it, and vote on it. An informal meeting is one in which a small group of the organization meets, in either committee meetings or small boards, to help the organization carry out its goals.

Meeting procedures vary according to the meeting type. The primary difference between formal and informal meetings is the chair's role in the meeting. In formal meetings, the members usually follow strict parliamentary procedures, which means that the chair stands while presiding and while stating a motion and taking the vote. He or she does not participate in the debate unless he or she leaves the chair. Members must rise and be recognized in order to obtain the floor, make motions, and debate. Debate is restricted to ten minutes each time a member speaks unless there is a rule to the contrary, and each member may speak twice to a motion.

In informal meetings, the person presiding is usually seated and takes an active role in making motions, discussing them, and voting on all issues. There are usually no limits on debate, and members can discuss an issue without a formal motion.

FORMAL MEETINGS

Formal meetings range from annual meetings and regular periodic meetings to conventions and mass meetings, plus less-common types such as adjourned (continued), executive, and special meetings and sessions. This section defines each type and explains its particular requirements.

Annual Meetings

The term annual meeting can refer to two things:

  • The meeting of a society that has only one meeting a year.

  • Regular Meetings

    A regular meeting is the periodic meeting of an assembly, which is held weekly, monthly, quarterly, or at similar intervals. The bylaws should state the day of the meeting (for example, "the first Monday of each month"), and the standing rules should state the hour of the meeting (for example, "8:00 p.m."). If an organization meets quarterly or more frequently, main motions can carry over to the next meeting through each of the following procedures:

    If meetings are held semiannually or less often, the organization can carry over a main motion to the next meeting only by referring it to a committee, with instructions to report at the next meeting.

    Adjourned Meetings

    An adjourned meeting is a continuation of a meeting. When an assembly can't finish the business of a regular or special meeting during the designated time of the meeting, it can provide for an adjourned meeting at a time before the next regularly scheduled meeting. The adjourned meeting is established by a motion to fix the time to which to adjourn or by a main motion to adjourn until a specified time. This sets the time (and place if it is not already established) to continue the meeting. In an adjourned meeting, the minutes of the meeting being continued are read first, and then business is taken up where the previous meeting left off.

    Executive Sessions

    An executive session is a meeting of an assembly that is closed to all but the members. In some organizations, all meetings are closed. (An example is the lodge system.) In an ordinary assembly, board and committee meetings are usually held in executive session. Other members may be invited to attend when they have important information to share, but they do not have the right to attend unless the bylaws provide for it.

    In many organizations, guests can attend meetings in order to observe the business proceedings of the organization. However, members may not want the guests present to hear the discussion at times. In these situations, a member can make a motion to go into executive session. This motion is a privileged motion and is adopted by a majority vote. If the motion is adopted, all nonmembers are requested to leave the meeting, until the members vote to end the executive session.

    Business conducted in an executive session is confidential and known only to its members. Members are not supposed to divulge the proceedings of an executive session and can be punished under a disciplinary provision if they violate the secrecy. Anyone who is not a member but is allowed to stay during the executive session (for example an executive director or employee of the organization) is honor-bound not to tell what happened in the executive session. Minutes of an executive session are read and approved only in an executive session.

    Most disciplinary action against a member must be held in executive session.

    Special Meetings

    A special meeting (or a called meeting) is a separate meeting of a society held at a time different from the regular meeting. The bylaws must provide guidelines for special meetings. If the organization is incorporated, or if state laws have authority over it, a special meeting provision may be in the corporate charter or the state laws. If an organization's governing documents do not provide for the calling of special meetings, the organization can't hold them.

    The bylaws or other governing documents should specify the proper procedures for calling a special meeting, including who can call it, the conditions under which it can be called, and the number of days notice that members must be given. Notice of the time, place, and purpose of the meeting must be sent to all members in advance of the meeting. At a special meeting, members can discuss only the business that was stated in the notification (which is referred to as the call to the meeting). If some emergency business is transacted for which no notice was given, the organization must ratify that business at a regular meeting or at another special meeting.

    Sessions

    A session is a series of connected meetings held by a group and devoted to a single order of business or program. Each meeting in a session is scheduled to continue business from the point where it left off in the preceding meeting. Sessions are very common in conventions.

    Conventions

    Conventions differ from regular meetings in that they are assemblies of delegates chosen from the units of an organization, which may be scattered over a large geographical area. The delegates are sent as representatives of these units. Usually a convention is held once every year or two and lasts about a week, although it could last longer if necessary, as in a constitutional convention, where the constitution of the organization is being revised or brought into existence.

    The voting members at a convention are those who hold proper credentials as delegates or those who in some other way hold membership and voting rights. Before delegates can participate, they must report to the credentials committee.

    This committee gives them the necessary documents to enter the convention floor and to participate in the convention business.

    Other names sometimes used for conventions are congress, conference, convocation, general assembly, house of delegates, and house of representatives.

    Of the various types of conventions, the most common is the convention of an established state or national society. The delegates are chosen by and from the local chapters of the society. Sometimes a convention is called for the purpose of forming a new association of persons to address a common problem or concern. This type of convention is handled like a mass meeting (discussed later in this chapter).

    Conventions vary in terms of how often they are held and how long the sessions last. A convention can last anywhere from a day to a week or more. Many conventions are held annually, but some are held less frequently. The variation depends on the size of the organization and the amount of business that needs to be done. The rules relating to a society's convention are stated in the bylaws.

    In its bylaws regarding conventions, a state, regional, or national society should have provisions that do the following:

    The procedures of a convention differ from those of a regular meeting. After opening ceremonies and any presentations, such as inspirational speakers, the first business in order is the report of the credentials committee.

    The credentials committee

    The credentials committee is one of the most important committees in the convention. This committee is responsible for registering the delegates, giving each delegate the proper identification to enter the assembly, and providing the delegates with copies of the program (the order of business) and other information such as times and places of workshops or other meetings.

    The credentials committee is the first to report at the convention, and business can't begin without the credentials committee report. This report states the number of delegates in attendance and establishes the membership of the meeting and quorum. At a convention, the quorum is the number of members present. Members present at the beginning of the meeting adopt the credentials committee report, which must be revised and adopted again when new delegates arrive and register. Because delegates continually arrive or leave the convention, the credentials committee report changes and must be voted on as it changes. It takes a majority vote to adopt the credentials committee report. The committee usually reports at the beginning of each meeting within the session and before an important vote if new delegates have registered or delegates have left.

    The credentials committee mans the registration table, and its members are present at stated times during the entire convention to register delegates as they arrive or arrange for alternates to replace those delegates who must leave the convention.

    Standing rules for the convention

    The convention adopts standing rules, which a committee on standing rules prepares. These rules contain both parliamentary rules and standing rules for this particular convention. Parliamentary rules may include those that set a time limit on debate (for example, each speaker can speak for three minutes) and establish the voting process (such as members shall use voting cards instead of voice votes or rising votes). There may be standing rules particular to the convention, such as all speakers shall come to the microphones and must wear badges to come into the assembly. The committee drafts these rules, which are presented immediately after the credentials report. The rules may be amended by the assembly and are adopted by a two-thirds vote.

    Program

    A convention usually adopts its own order of business. This order of business is called the program and specifies when certain issues are to be taken up and when certain events are to occur. The program, or agenda, is developed by the program committee and adopted after the standing rules of the convention. The program chairman presents it as a main motion. It is debatable and amendable and is adopted by a majority vote. After the program is adopted, it takes a two-thirds vote to change it.

    Resolutions or reference committee

    Some organizations have a resolutions committee or a reference committee whose basic purpose is to screen all main motions before they are presented to the assembly. The reference committee invites members to an open meeting for the sole purpose of getting the members' input before resolutions or proposed bylaw amendments go to the entire assembly.

    In some organizations, a standing committee, such as the bylaws committee, functions as a reference committee. The bylaws committee usually acts as a reference committee to help expedite the amending of bylaws. The bylaws committee can provide an informal setting where members can raise questions, state their objections, or give suggestions for improvement of proposed bylaw changes. The committee can then reevaluate the proposed amendments and make changes that are more acceptable to the membership. Because members have already raised questions and given suggestions to the committee, much time is saved during the regular session when the bylaw amendments are presented. In most cases, the controversial issues can be resolved because the bylaws committee can then propose a compromise amendment during the business meeting.

    Adjournment sine die

    After the convention finishes its business and program, it adjourns sine die, which means adjournment "without a day." In other words, this particular group of delegates will not meet again. The next convention is a "new" convention where delegates start all over by adopting standing rules and a program. A convention is a complete unit in and of itself, which is why it always adjourns sine die.

    Mass Meetings

    A mass meeting is a meeting of an unorganized group. It provides a meeting place and an orderly way to bring people of the same interests and concerns together for the purpose of forming an organization or solving a community problem.

    Because a mass meeting has no written rules regarding meeting conduct, some basic parliamentary principles govern it:

    Calling a mass meeting

    Those who want to have a mass meeting have a variety of ways that they can notify those interested, such as via telephone or mass mailer, or through media announcements and posters. The call to the meeting should state the purpose of the meeting; the date, time, and place; and who is invited to attend. For example, the meeting may be for residents of a certain neighborhood, registered voters, or those interested in a certain issue.

    Preparing for a mass meeting

    Like other meetings, a mass meeting must have structure. The people calling the meeting need to prepare an agenda and decide who is going to call the meeting to order; who they want to nominate as a temporary chairman and secretary; who will explain the purpose of the meeting and what the sponsors want to accomplish; and, finally, by which rules they will abide.

    Conducting a mass meeting

    Although a mass meeting has no governing documents to provide structure, the basic parliamentary rules of conducting a meeting apply. In Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, specific rules are given for conducting a mass meeting. The following rules are for the first mass meeting that a group calls. If a series of mass meetings is held, those meetings should follow the order of business as outlined in Chapter 2.

    The first item of business in a mass meeting is electing a chairman and secretary. When the time arrives for the meeting to begin, the person selected by the meeting organizers to preside calls the meeting to order and requests nominations for a chairman. Those sponsoring the meeting should be ready to nominate a candidate for the office. The nominee can be the person who called the meeting to order. Another way to accomplish this is for the person presiding to immediately nominate the candidate that the sponsors want to be chairman. After the sponsors nominate their candidate, the person presiding asks for nominations from the floor. He or she then takes a voice vote.

    After someone (ideally the sponsors' candidate) is elected chairman, the next business in order is to elect a secretary. The sponsors again nominate a candidate for this office and follow the same procedure as electing a chairman. After the election of the secretary, the chairman asks the secretary to read the call to the meeting. The chairman then recognizes the person who is designated to explain the purpose of the meeting.

    After the purpose of the meeting is explained, one of the meeting sponsors can propose a resolution or a series of resolutions to accomplish the purpose. Those present are considered members of the assembly and have the right to propose amendments to the resolution or present any other motions that would help expedite the purpose of the meeting. The only motions not allowed are those contrary to the purpose of the meeting, and the chairman has the responsibility to rule those motions out of order. For example, if the meeting is called to oppose the construction of a shopping mall in the neighborhood, it is out of order to propose a motion in favor of the shopping mall.

    Adjourning a mass meeting

    Here is a word of caution about adjournment: If the assembly needs to have another meeting, the assembly needs to establish the date, time, and place of the meeting prior to adjournment. If members adjourn without adopting a motion to set the time for another meeting, the assembly dissolves and has to start again from the very beginning if another meeting is called.

    Using a mass meeting to establish an organization

    A mass meeting can be used to bring an organization into being. The procedures are the same as those explained in the "Conducting a mass meeting" section, except for the following:

    INFORMAL MEETINGS

    Informal meetings are specifically designed for boards and committees whose membership is under 12. They are called "informal" because the rules are less formal than rules for larger bodies. The person presiding is usually seated and can make motions, discuss motions, and vote on motions. The members do not have to rise to address the chair, and members can often discuss ideas before they make a motion. However, even though an informal meeting has a more relaxed approach, members should still follow an agenda and limit discussion to the subject of the meeting. If these techniques are not practiced, time is wasted and things do not get accomplished. The two most common types of informal meetings are board and committee meetings.

    Board Meetings (Under 12 Members)

    In board meetings, business is conducted largely the same way as in other deliberative assembly meetings. All boards must transact business in a properly called meeting. For example, members must be notified of the meeting in advance, and a quorum must be present. The secretary keeps the minutes of the board meeting. The minutes are accessible only to members of the board, unless the board votes to release them to the general membership or two-thirds of the general membership votes to have them released and read to all members. At board meetings, the executive committee (if one exists) should report to the board what it has been doing since the last board meeting.

    The formality of the rules in board meetings is determined by the size of the board. Robert's Rules of Order sets the dividing line between large and small boards as 12 members. Large boards operate under the same rules as other deliberative assemblies. Small boards can use more relaxed procedures, which differ from the procedures of large boards in several respects. In meetings of small boards:

    If a board meeting ever disintegrates into chaos, or a lack of order prevents business from being accomplished, a wise presiding officer returns to the formal rules of conducting a meeting and advises the members that parliamentary rules are in place. (Examples of parliamentary rules are getting recognition from the chair before speaking, making a main motion before beginning to speak, observing the formal rules of debate, and stating the question before taking the vote.)

    Committee Meetings (Under 12 Members)

    The chairman (or the first member named to a new committee, who usually acts as the chairman) is responsible for calling together the committee. This means that he or she sets the time, date, and place of the meeting and notifies all the committee members. The chairman can be appointed by the presiding officer of the assembly or can be elected by the committee.

    If for any reason the chairman won't call a committee meeting, two members can call the committee meeting. A quorum is a majority of the committee's total membership.

    The rules in a committee meeting are the same as those specified for small boards. The chairman usually acts as the secretary of a small committee. In a large committee, someone else is usually chosen to act as the secretary.

    Committees operate under the same bylaws, parliamentary authority, standing rules, and special rules that govern the organization creating the committee. Committees do not make their own rules (except when authorized by a higher authority - the bylaws or the assembly - to do so).

    The chairman of a committee plays a very active role in the committee. He or she can make motions, debate, and vote in the committee. Because debate is not limited in a committee, it can continue as long as necessary to reach an acceptable conclusion.

    A committee doesn't really decide anything (unless it has been given power by the assembly to make certain specific decisions). Usually a committee just makes recommendations, which are then discussed and voted on by the parent assembly. (The committee is basically a "child" of the organization that created it.)

    Should the committee wish to take action beyond the scope of its powers, it can report to the assembly that it seeks empowerment to do so. If the assembly assents, it can empower the committee to take the action requested.

    When committees are about to decide on an important issue, they should invite members of the organization to appear and offer their views on the subject being discussed. They can also invite nonmembers who have expertise in the subject. This is called a hearing. After everyone who has an interest in the proceedings has been heard, the committee deliberates privately. During committee deliberations, only committee members have the right to be present. Any vote taken to decide the will of the committee, including information to include in committee reports, requires a majority vote.

    In a committee, the motion to reconsider the vote in committee allows members to revisit an issue that has been voted on. This procedure is handled differently than in regular meetings of assemblies. In a committee:

    ELECTRONIC MEETINGS

    Many organizations today have officers and members scattered across the globe and choose to conduct meetings via the telephone, e-mail, or videoconferencing. Remember that the reason organizations have meetings is so members can hear about issues, respond to what others are saying, and give suggestions to evaluate them all at the same time. Telephone and video conferencing meetings allow members the means to accomplish these goals. If members want to hold telephone or video conferencing meetings, the bylaws must include a special provision. Members should adopt rules of order concerning basic parliamentary procedure about how to obtain the floor, make motions, and handle the debate in telephone and video conferencing meetings.

    However, meeting via e-mail or electronic chat room does not allow members to fully participate in the democratic process. Many organizations today try this approach to meetings and find that it creates confusion rather than order. They have difficulty keeping order, having members understand where they are in the process, and getting business done.

    E-mail is quickly replacing many other forms of communication. Many people find it a fast, inexpensive way to inform and communicate with others. However, because of its convenience, a temptation of e-mail is for some disgruntled officer or member to e-mail everyone with their concerns, or even a resignation, and then later have to withdraw the resignation or apologize for off-the-cuff remarks. Another problem is that members send e-mail messages intended only for boards and committee members to those who are not members of the boards or committees. Because the information is shared with the members in general before any decision is made, this can cause dissension in the organization.

    E-mail is a quick way to get announcements, agendas, committee reports, and minutes to members. However, e-mail is not always effective when used during a decision-making process. Some e-mails get read immediately, and some don't. Occasionally, e-mail is not delivered to the proper recipient, or it is not delivered at all.

    One problem with deciding an issue by e-mail is that members often respond to the remarks of one member at a time, instead of responding to all of them at once. Plus, two or more members may be typing a response at the same time, and if conflicting responses to an issue are sent simultaneously, it can be difficult to determine the response from which to work.

    Often the entire group becomes confused with who said what, who responded to what, and what was finally decided. As a result, organizations must still have a standard meeting to get everything sorted out. What begins as a potential timesaver can result in wasting a lot of time. If the members were in a room together, they would all hear the discussion at the same time, know who is speaking and what side they are on, and know the outcome of a vote. Because there is not much order in electronic meetings, essential elements of democracy are sidestepped (see Chapter 1).

    E-mail meetings may be helpful for organizations whose members are scattered, but it should not be used as a medium for decision-making in organizations whose members can easily meet in person. For this reason, the organization's rules should clearly define any use of e-mail.

    Until someone designs a good computer program for having online meetings, using e-mail for sharing newsletters or factual information or for correcting the minutes is best. If members want to use e-mail for official notification of meetings, the bylaws should contain this information, but keep in mind that not everyone has a computer or Internet access.

    MEETING MANAGEMENT

    Every organization has goals that it wants to accomplish, which require that its members work together. But anyone who works with a group knows that one of two things generally happens: either one person in the group is willing to do all the work, so it gets done; or a meeting is called about the work to be done, which leads only to more meetings. Many people are being "meeting-ed" to death these days, and the meetings don't accomplish all that they should.

    Is there a way to solve the meeting dilemma but still preserve democracy and not waste everyone's time? Yes, through meeting management. Many of the techniques previously explained in this resource, such as preparing and following an agenda, rotating debate and keeping debate within its limits, and insisting that members keep to the topic at hand are elements of meeting management.

    The following suggestions apply mainly to informal meeting settings, such as board and committee meetings, where organizations waste the most time because people don't stay on the subject. Often a committee meeting turns into a social event, or the members get sidetracked by discussing or deciding something that is not within the scope of the meeting or the duties of the committee or board.

    Here are some helpful techniques for managing a meeting so that you can accomplish what you set out to do in an efficient, timely manner:

    Managing Meetings at the Office

    Can a business use these same techniques at the office? Can a knowledge of democratic principles and formal rules and procedures help in conducting meetings in the business world? Most definitely yes! Incorporating meeting management techniques and the basic principles of parliamentary procedure in business meetings saves time, encourages input from all the participants, and gives structure to the meeting.

    The basic principle of taking up one item of business at a time is applicable in any meeting. The person planning or facilitating the meeting should have an agenda or a list (arranged in the order of priority) of things to accomplish at the meeting. Everyone attending the meeting should receive a copy of the agenda.

    The principle of impartiality is also applicable. The key question the meeting planner should ask is, "Do I really want the ideas of others, or do I just want to tell them what to do?" How the meeting planner answers this question determines how the meeting proceeds.

    If the person conducting the meeting really wants the input of employees or colleagues, he or she will be impartial - refraining from passing judgment on what is said and allowing all to speak. In this kind of meeting, it is important to alternate the discussion in order to bring out the best ideas. The meeting leader will not allow one person or a small group of people to dominate the discussion; he or she also solicits opinions from those who are not participating in the discussion.

    Here are some other important points to remember when conducting a meeting:

    The most effective meetings in the business world are those in which employees know that their ideas are taken seriously and implemented. When employers call meetings just to talk at their employees, no one takes these meetings seriously, and everyone will make excuses not to attend.

    The Meeting Environment

    Another factor of meeting management is the meeting room itself. Check the obvious factors in advance. For example, is the room large enough to seat the group comfortably? It should not be too large or too small. Is it temperature-controlled so that the members won't get too hot or too cold? Is it quiet enough for the audience to hear the speakers and the leaders? Does it have audio and video equipment, overhead projectors, computers, or whatever else speakers may need to present their information?

    Does the room have a properly functioning public address system (if needed)? Are there enough exits into and out of the room for safety, but not so many that the organization can't control admission? Are there enough tables and chairs? Check all these matters in advance to ensure that the room is properly prepared.

    The seating arrangement can facilitate the meeting. For smaller meetings (fewer than 30 people), some experts suggest that circular or semicircular seating helps focus the members' attention on the leader and on each other. This arrangement is good for promoting interaction. The circular seating pattern fosters a sense of equality (like the Knights of the Round Table). Although it is good for intense face-to-face interaction, it may not be good for problem solving. When using the semi-circle, make sure that the door to the room is at the bottom of the U so that meeting participants are not distracted by persons coming and going. The diameter of the semicircle should be about 15 feet for a 15-person meeting. If there are more than 15 people, set up a second row of chairs. This way everyone can easily see each other, the leader, and any visual aids at the front of the room.

    No matter what seating arrangement you choose, encourage people to sit close together. Sitting close together promotes a feeling of group cohesiveness. If you know that someone has left the meeting and will not return, take away the empty chair and move the group together to fill the empty space. Avoid empty spaces because they suggest something missing or a vacuum - psychologically negative suggestions for a group that is trying to accomplish something together.

    Evaluating Your Meetings

    After a meeting, evaluate what happened so that you can plan better meetings in the future. The following checklist helps you identify mistakes and avoid future ones:

    MEETING STRATEGIES

    This section offers plans of action for either adopting a motion or defeating a motion while preserving the highest ideal of democratic proceedings in meetings. Although the word strategy has a favorable definition - a careful plan or method to achieve a goal - it can also connote a plan of action to defeat an enemy by trickery.

    The intent of this discussion is not subterfuge but information. This section describes the procedure or procedures that counteract any motion presented in a meeting. There are always two sides (sometimes many sides) to each issue, and if one group prevails by subverting the democratic process and preventing the other side(s) from being heard, the action is doomed to fail. Often such action leads to the breaking up of the organization. However, each side of an issue has the right to use parliamentary procedures in a fair, just, and honest way to obtain its goal.

    Here is a word of advice from Henry Robert:

    Where there is radical difference of opinion in an organization, one side must yield. The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give to the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal.

    All members should know fully the rules of procedure, their rights as members, and how to protect those rights. Remember that if an opposition sleeps on its rights, it may be too late to correct the action. Therefore, members must pay attention to what is happening in the meeting and point out to the chair and the assembly any mistakes when they happen - not after the meeting has adjourned and everyone has gone home.

    Strategies for Members

    When organizations have to consider a controversial issue, both sides commonly come to the meeting with a plan to achieve their goals. If the organization is divided on the issue and the presentation of the debate was equal, usually the side having the best understanding of parliamentary procedure wins. Therefore, all members should understand the types of strategies and how to counter each one.

    There are several types of meeting strategies: those necessary to adopt, delay, or defeat an action; to bring a compromise; and to change an action.

    One of the most important strategies is to come prepared for the meeting. The person who will make the motion should already be assigned and rehearsed, have the motion carefully worded, and be prepared for the debate. During rehearsal for debate, ask someone to play devil's advocate so that members can counter the opposition's objections. Plan what you will do when motions are made to defeat the proposed action; if possible, work with a parliamentarian. The same advice goes for those opposing the action.

    If you are the person who has to preside during a controversy, think about all the situations and motions that can arise, and prepare for them. Be ready to keep order and handle points of order and appeals from the decision of the chair. Seek advice from a parliamentarian before the meeting and, if possible, hire a parliamentarian to help you during the meeting.

    Strategy to adopt an action

    Often a proposed action comes from a committee or the board of an organization. If this is the case, the great advantage is that the proposal comes from an official organ of the organization. In the eyes of the membership, such a proposal usually carries more authority than if an individual member makes the motion. There is also more than one person supporting the idea. The other advantage is that in presenting the idea to the members, the committee or board gives a report explaining the whys and wherefores of the motion. The committee can meet many objections in the report by providing enough information. The other advantage that a board or committee has is the ability to give to the assembly written information attached to the agenda or sent out with the call to the meeting.

    An individual presenting a motion isn't able to give a report or attach printed materials to the agenda without the permission of the assembly. Nor is an individual likely to have a small group of supporters already in favor of the action. However, one way to get more information to the group about the motion is to present it in the form of a resolution. In this form, the preamble can state the reason for the proposed action.

    A defensive strategy in adopting a motion is to watch for those who may try to shut off debate prematurely, or those who try to kill a motion by laying it on the table instead of making the motion to postpone indefinitely. During the meeting, if you feel that you are losing ground or you need to consult with others, make a motion to recess. If the members seem to need more time to think about the motion, or the committee needs to gather more facts, use a delaying strategy.

    Strategy to delay an action

    Delaying an action is sometimes the wisest move to make. There are two ways to delay an action: first by referring the motion to a committee and second by postponing it to a later time. (Sometimes the motion to reconsider the vote delays the action if this motion is not taken up at the meeting but is called up at the next meeting.)

    A delaying strategy is helpful if a member makes a motion that no one is prepared to discuss or has even thought about. In this instance, the motion to postpone to the next meeting enables the members to gather information, formulate their reasons pro or con, and get the absent members to attend the next meeting. In cases where the members are uncertain because they don't have enough information, or when they want to know how the details are going to be worked out, it is best not to push for a decision at that meeting but to make a motion to refer to a committee.

    Strategy to defeat a motion

    Members don't always agree, and those who oppose an action have the right to try to defeat it. The most obvious ways to defeat an action are to:

    However, if something detrimental to the organization or a member is proposed, the wisest action is to object to consideration of the question immediately after the chairman states it. This motion should seldom be used, and only when something would truly harm the organization even to discuss it. (For information on making this motion, see Chapter 9.)

    Compromise as a strategy

    An alternative to defeating a motion is to compromise. Very rarely is an issue a yes or no question. Most issues are negotiable and can be resolved through discussing, carefully listening to others, and then using the amending process. For example, say that the membership is divided about the time of the meetings. Group A wants the meetings changed to an earlier time, but Group B wants to keep the current time. After much discussion and proposing of amendments, the members vote on a time that neither one really wants but that is between the current meeting time and Group A's suggestion. It is a compromise that everyone can accept.

    Other strategies

    Besides the strategies already discussed, there are others that an organization can use to effectively change an action, correct a mistake, cool down tempers, keep a motion alive, or deal with various situations arising in a meeting:

    Voting strategies

    If a voice vote is taken and a member feels that the vote is not decisive, he or she should call for a division. The chair must retake the vote by asking the members to rise. If a question is controversial and a member thinks having a secret vote would deliver the most honest and representative vote, he or she should move to take the vote by ballot. This motion needs a second, is not debatable, and requires a majority vote.

    Requests for clarification

    When you don't understand what is going on in a meeting or you've gotten lost in the procedures, the best strategy is to ask the chair by rising to a parliamentary inquiry. If more members use this tool, organizations can prevent much misunderstanding in meetings.

    Another way to use a parliamentary inquiry is to ask the chair if it is in order to do something. The chair's duty is to assist the members in presenting business.

    Still another way of asking for help in a meeting is by requesting a point of information. If you want more facts about the subject being discussed or don't understand what someone has just said, ask. For example, a member may say,

    Member: Mr. Chairman, I rise to a point of information.

    Did I understand the previous speaker to say . . . ?

    Be assured that if you didn't understand something or are lost in the procedures of a meeting, others are probably having the same problem.

    Paying attention pays off

    Members can often stop illegal actions before they occur in a main motion by remembering these points:

    Strategies for Presiding Officers

    The presiding officer's duty is to ensure that all meetings proceed in a democratic fashion and that all procedures and proposed actions are in accord with the governing documents of the organization and parliamentary rules. Therefore, a presiding officer should be thoroughly familiar with the following:

    Should a presiding officer have a meeting strategy? Yes, in the sense that he or she is well prepared to conduct the meeting. An effective presiding officer is thoroughly familiar with the agenda and presides from a meeting script. (See Appendix B for a sample meeting script.) The officer has reviewed different procedures from the organization's parliamentary authority and has consulted beforehand with the parliamentarian about any tricky items that may come up.

    The presiding officer's goal should be to expedite business in a timely fashion while still allowing members to present it in a fair manner. He or she should not try to push things through solely to get things done in record time.

    Most presiding officers are familiar with the members and know which issues are hot-button issues. When a presiding officer knows that an agenda item is one of those issues, the officer should thoroughly prepare to keep control of the meeting so that it doesn't get out of hand.

    Techniques for keeping order in a meeting are:

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