Discussing….presenting ideas….asking questions. Parliamentary procedure allows all of this, right? But, you’re thinking, there’s this guy who always speaks up. Or there’s the member who asks the strangest questions – the awkward ones no one knows how to answer! And what about the lady who just won’t shut up once she gets going.
Discussion keeps the meeting rolling along with a variety of participants. But the flip side? Discussion can be what makes a meeting last forever. If you’re in charge, it’s easy to let discussion rule the day. However, it’s a mistake to think that you must…
1. Always Ask For Discussion No Matter What
2. Recognize the Loudest, Most Persistent Members First
Every group has that member who offers his opinion at will by interrupting other members around the board table, or by yelling his views from the back of the room. Don’t let that happen. A presiding officer should require each member to seek recognition before speaking. This is not just Robert’s Rules. It’s wisdom and courtesy.
In a large group, members should leave their seats and come to a microphone. This ensures that their comments will be heard by everyone, and it forces them to get in line and wait their turn. In a small group, members should raise their hand and wait to be recognized.
3. Never Cut Anyone Off
Discussion without any time limits just might be the definition of “purgatory.” Robert’s Rules of Order helps a little: Members can speak only two times, for 10 minutes each time, on any issue.
But this isn’t enough. (Do you really want to listen to Mr. Talks-a-Lot for 10 whole minutes?) Groups should adopt other methods to ensure that discussion doesn’t extend longer than necessary.
Here’s a few ideas, all of which can be accomplished by adopting special rules.
- Limit members’ speaking time on any issue to two times for three minutes each time.
- Assign time limits to each item on the agenda. Run your meeting with a schedule.
- Decide the total number of members that can speak in favor of and against each motion.
Bottom line: Enforce the limits you have. This means you likely need a timekeeper. And when a member’s time runs out, just kindly say, “The member’s time has expired,” which sounds much friendlier than something like, “You are out of time.”
A great meeting doesn’t happen when the presiding officer delivers a monotonous lecture. It happens when just enough people provide enough good thoughts to keep the meeting interesting and helpful, and to provoke solid decision-making. Run your next meeting with some discussion controls in place, and you’ll likely find it’s a much more enjoyable experience.