Whether you're presiding over a meeting of 2,500 members or a small board or committee meeting, your job is the same when it comes to the goal of successfully managing a meeting. And to ensure that you manage successfully, here are some tips to help you establish yourself as a knowledgeable, well-organized and helpful leader.
Tip 1: Know Your Rules
One of the best ways to establish your credibility as a leader is to know your rules. If you don't, your members will know it. No feeling is quite as bad as standing in front of a room full of people who know more about your job than you do. For what it's worth, General Robert was in that position once, too. After his experience, he wrote a book on the rules! To avoid being caught unprepared, make sure you're well read on your group's charter, bylaws, special rules of order, and parliamentary authority. No one other than a person who has held your office before you (and your parliamentarian) should know as much about these rules as you do.
Tip 2: Plan Your Meetings
Nothing benefits you and your group as much as being prepared for your meetings. Planning your meeting in as much detail as possible assures the best chance of completing the agenda within the time available (or at least knowing if you need to hold an adjourned meeting to finish your business). The process of planning your meeting so that you can cover everything you need to cover is much easier if you follow the outline below:
Tip 3: Start Your Meetings On Time
People have busy schedules. Your time is valuable, but it is no more valuable than that of the members who have arrived on time and are ready to start at the appointed hour. Don't allow a few minutes past the scheduled time to accommodate members who are late. An effective presiding officer accommodates the members who arrive on time and insists that the habitual latecomers adjust to everyone else instead of everyone adjusting to them. Nothing you do commands the respect you must have as the chair as much as starting your meeting on time. Your members know you mean business, and that's fine, because that's what you're all there for.
Tip 4: Use Unanimous Consent
Unanimous consent is when the chair declares a motion to have passed without taking a vote and instead asks simply if there's any objection). Unanimous consent is a remarkable tool for handling any motion for which it's clear and obvious that the assembly's will is to pass the motion. The most recognizable situations where unanimous consent is used are the approval of minutes and adjourning a meeting. But unanimous consent is just as useful even if the question is on a bylaw amendment, as long as no opposition is apparent. Members rarely object to unanimous consent where they know that opposition is so minimal that it won't affect the outcome. If you ask for unanimous consent and a member objects, you simply take the vote. Otherwise, it's a great timesaver, and members really do respect presiding officers who know how to save time.
Tip 5: Use Committees
Encourage new proposals to be brought through your organization's committees. Members often have good ideas, but those ideas sometimes need some work before they're ready for a vote. Teaching your members how to take their ideas to committees can have great benefits for you and your organization. But members need to have confidence in their committees; willingness to help and assist them with their ideas. Remember: If your committees are set up well, everybody who‘s really interested tackles the discussion in the committee meetings, and the rest of the members know that the committee's recommendations are based on sound reason. But good committees go to waste without a strong leader to make efficient use of them – that's you.
Tip 6: Preside with Impartiality
Nobody expects you to actually be impartial. You were probably elected because you have an overall agenda and a program you hope to advance. But when you're presiding in your meeting, you must put your personal agenda aside and help the members make their decisions. You can't lose if you do this, because ultimately, the decision belongs to the majority anyway. So the presiding officer must leave any personal or political agendas to those others. As presiding officer, you really only control the floor (and you're expected to follow clear and definite rules about how the floor's assigned). Everything else is really in the members' hands. It's always in your best interest to be known as a leader who helps the minority to make its case – and to do so no matter how you personally feel about their position.
To preside with impartiality:
Tip 7: Never Give Up the Chair
Although this tip may sound like an elaboration on my previous tip to maintain the appearance of impartiality, it's a little more than that. No matter how strongly you feel about an issue, your job is to preside. Robert's Rules provides that if you can't preside impartially because you feel too strongly about an issue, you must step down and let someone else preside until the vote is taken. But I caution you to consider if giving up the chair is really wise. And, consider that the person who takes the chair may not gracefully return the position to you. That can get mighty uncomfortable. Take my advice: Don't give up the chair.
Tip 8: Don't Share Your Lectern
Put simply, never share your lectern with other speakers. Instead, provide a separate and distinct station for other officers and committee chairmen to use when giving their reports. During a business meeting, your duty requires that you're always in control of the floor, and you can't be in control of the floor if you can't use your station to address the assembly without moving somebody else out of the way. When officers and committee members make their reports, motions may arise and questions may come up. By having two lecterns, you can manage the discussion from the chair and the reporting member can remain available to respond to questions as the chair may request.
Remember: Members always address their remarks and comments to the chair, and the chair recognizes members to speak and ask questions. It's your job and your station. Make the place from which you preside yours exclusively.
Tip 9: Keep Your Cool
Sometimes presiding over a meeting just isn't easy. When disorder erupts, no amount of hammering a wooden mallet on a sounding block is going to do anything but aggravate an already bad situation. When there are disorderly rants, you should calmly rap the gavel once and ask the member to come to order. If he ignores your request, the most effective thing you can do is to stand firmly at your station. Don't allow yourself to become engaged personally with the members. Instead, calmly entreat him to come to order. In extremely difficult situations -- when an entire assembly erupts in disorderly demonstration – it is usually due to perceptions that the chair is being partial to one side of the other. But whatever the reason, sometimes its just best to wait until the inevitable silence finally falls, and then ask for unanimous consent to a recess so that tempers may ease. If you make mistakes that give rise to disorder, meet with those members in a position to assist you in reestablishing the respect due to the chair so that the meeting either can continue or adjourn.
Tip 10: Use a Parliamentarian
In the world of Robert's Rules, you don't have to go it alone. No matter what size your organization may be, when you have problems or questions, you can seek out the services of a professional parliamentarian. Resources are available online to answer questions, and local units of parliamentarians exist all over the country. Remember: The parliamentarian's job is to make you look good in the chair, and nothing beats the confidence you feel if you have a parliamentarian