Annual meeting time is just around the corner.  For board presidents who don’t have much experience moderating meetings, that annual meeting can be the most intimidating thing on your calendar.  Well, maybe the MOST intimidating thing is the idea of moderating that annual meeting with “Mrs. Jones”, a formidable retiree who’s a stickler for proper procedure, sitting front and center as she does every year.  She likes to make motions, objections, and often ties the meeting up in knots.

Parliamentary Tip:  Think of parliamentary procedure like the rules of baseball.  The basic rules always stay the same, but how formally you need to apply them depends on the situation.  When you’re playing a friendly, social game among friends, you don’t need to be too formal.  But when the stakes are higher (due to a larger meeting, the degree of controversy about issues, or the political climate in your community), you need to become more formal about applying the rules to make sure the outcome of the meeting is fair to all.

If Mrs. Jones is attempting to use a high degree of formality when the circumstances call for a “social game”, for example, in a board, committee or small annual meeting, you may want to gently remind her that even Roberts Rules says, “In small boards and committees, most parliamentary rules apply, but certain modifications permitting greater flexibility and informality are commonly allowed.” (RONR Sec. 1 p. 9).

On the other hand, if Mrs. Jones typically uses formal procedure in a negative way, by attempting to create rather than reduce chaos, here are a few suggestions for defusing her at that annual meeting:

  • Give her a job: Ahead of time, invite her to participate in the meeting.  Ideas: helping with registration, assisting the secretary by taking meeting notes, serving as a teller for the election, or even serving as parliamentarian to assist the chair.
  • Explain what you’re doing and why:  Stop the process and take a moment to explain where you are on the agenda and how you will run the meeting to achieve a fair outcome.  Use that “baseball rules” analogy if appropriate.
  • Emphasize the basics: Parliamentary procedure and good meeting management share the same goals:
    • one thing at a time
    • the organization is paramount as compared to the individual
    • balance the right of the minority to be heard with the right of the majority to decide the outcome
    • make decisions quickly, efficiently and fairly
  • Call for the question:  If she makes a valid motion at the right time on the agenda, simply hold the vote briskly (ideally using the script for handling motions you’ve got on hand), then move on.
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