Why You Should Hire a Professional Parliamentarian for Your Annual Meeting – Part 2Last week’s post was intended to make you think. . . . Think about getting professional help from a Robert’s Rules of Order guru instead of winging it. Think about securing the real deal to run (or help you run) the dreaded annual meeting. Think about hiring someone who can make you look good and save you a ton of time. Here are three more relevant issues as you consider consulting with a professional parliamentarian.

A Professional Parliamentarian Can Keep You Out of Trouble.

Like I stated in my second point last week, professional parliamentarians have participated in more meetings than most people will ever attend—or ever want to attend—in a lifetime. We can look at an agenda and tell you where the trouble spots will be. We know where elections can tend to go awry, and we know what problems bylaw amendments can cause.

Odds are, we’ve experienced whatever your trouble is multiple times before. A professional can help you anticipate mess and hopefully avoid it.

A Professional Parliamentarian Can Be a Resource for Members.

Every organization has a few (sometimes vocal) members with extra questions and strong opinions. These people should not be allowed to “run the show,” but neither should they be marginalized. Finding that balance can often be a full-time job for the officers and board. Also, it’s wearisome.

Professional parliamentarians definitely have an advantage on this one. We’re hired as neutral experts on the rules, and we don’t have any personal history with the highly opinionated question-askers in your group. In fact, we’ll be happy to take the non-fun job of listening to them and answering their questions. You’d be surprised how far this effort will go in helping them feel heard and guiding them as to the right time, place, and way to state their opinions. Trust me—having a professional parliamentarian play that role can save you a lot of headaches.

But What About the Cost of a Professional Parliamentarian?

Good question. Here’s a simple answer on the fees for this line of work. For one, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Like any professional service, the scope of the work can vary, as can the fee arrangement. For example, you might need help with a specific question, an agenda, or a simple script. Alternatively, you might need someone to draft an extremely detailed script or be on-site for the meeting or for several days prior.

An experienced professional parliamentarian can help you discern group issues and the best use of your organization’s funds. You certainly can’t go wrong by thinking seriously about hiring a professional and reaching out to discuss your needs.

Why You Should Hire a Professional Parliamentarian for Your Annual Meeting – Part 1If you hear the words “professional parliamentarian,” and your first thought isn’t, “parli…what?” – then you’re likely thinking, “Wait, there are people who actually do that willingly, even for money?” or, “Please, may I never meet that person.”

I’m here to tell you that “professional parliamentarian” doesn’t have to mean “the most rulesy, inflexible person alive.” On the contrary, a professional parliamentarian is simply a person who knows meeting rules well enough to help you get things done efficiently and avoid trouble along the way. Here are two reasons you should hire one (and stay tuned – two more coming up next week).

1. A Professional Parliamentarian Can Make You Look Good.

There’s a common scenario that goes like this: An individual moves up the ranks of an organization and finds herself in the position of president. She’s likely there because she’s highly successful in her profession and/or generally well-respected in the group. And now she has to preside over the annual meeting in front of a large assembly of her peers. Great, she thinks. What now? What are the words to say to process motions and get through the election? And what if Mr. Always-Has-Something-to-Say comes to the microphone and rattles off some sort of “according to Robert’s Rules” mumbo-jumbo?

This is exactly where a professional parliamentarian can be a lifesaver – when meeting leadership (new or old) needs someone with know-how to guide them through the troubled waters of procedure. We can write you a script in our sleep that will make you look like a pro. Mr. Always-Has-Something-to-Say doesn’t catch us off guard – we have scripts in our back pocket for responding to people like him, and we’re ready to pass them discreetly to you to read.

Believe it or not, using a parliamentarian (to help you preside during those extra important events) is a pretty seamless process that leaves most of the audience wondering who that extra person was on the platform and why she was there! That person is the professional parliamentarian—giving you confidence regarding what to say when and generally helping you lead well.

2. A Professional Parliamentarian Can Make Your Meetings Shorter.

This one is a no-brainer. Not trying to one-up anyone with this next question, but . . . How many business meeting agendas have you drafted or worked on in your lifetime? Ten, maybe? I have lost count of the number I’ve worked on, but a safe estimate is in the hundreds. And here’s where that experience really counts: I can usually look at an agenda and in short order find about 15 minutes (or more) of wasted time. It’s not just me – most professional parliamentarians can do the same.

Want a shorter meeting? Get us involved early, and we’ll help you structure your meeting and votes to get business done efficiently.

Bonus Tip: Some professional parliamentarians are also especially skilled at presiding. In our line of work, we can either coach the presiding officer or serve as presider. If you’re willing to let a parliamentarian serve as presider and run the meeting for you, that professional’s knowledge of the rules and her experience can dramatically streamline the entire process. It is sometimes best to let the president preside, but if you have flexibility, I’d suggest you seriously consider a professional parliamentarian with presiding skills. Members are often very appreciative of the productivity and flow that come with having a professional at the podium.

But, you’re thinking, you have no idea the kind of mess we’ve got coming up at this next annual meeting.

Answer 1: A professional parliamentarian has seen many versions of crazy.  We’re hard to shock.

And answer 2: Hang tight. Next week’s post (with two more reasons) is for you.

How to Get Help with Your Robert’s Rules QuestionsSo, you have questions about Robert’s Rules or parliamentary procedure. Well, the solution for every one of those queries is…. ask a parliamentarian.

Definitions for 500, Alex. A parliamentarian is a person who is obsessed (in a good way, of course!) with parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the term for the rules that groups must follow to conduct proper business meetings. And as far as resources or rule books go, Robert’s Rules is just the title of the most popular collection of parliamentary procedure rules, but there are others.

Now, for a roadmap—telling you how to find a parliamentarian and get answers.

Step One: Decide What Type of Parliamentarian You Need.

The first step to getting help with Robert’s Rules or answers to parliamentary procedure questions is to determine what type of parliamentarian you need. As with any field, not everyone who calls himself a “parliamentarian” has the same level of expertise. Here’s a quick guide to understanding different types of parliamentarians.

  • Lay Parliamentarian – This person knows more parliamentary procedure than the average man on the street but has no credentials in the field. This is often someone who was exposed to parliamentary procedure early in life (perhaps through Future Business Leaders of America or Future Farmers of America) or someone who has spent enough time in organizational leadership to gain basic knowledge.

Feel free to ask questions to lay parliamentarians because often they know a great deal. But just be careful: Ask them for page references to Robert’s Rules as backup. There’s a lot of confusion out there about parliamentary procedure, and you want to be sure you get it right. Keep going back to the rule book.

  • Member Parliamentarian – This person is a lay parliamentarian who also happens to be a member of your organization. Often this person voluntarily serves as the group’s parliamentarian, which is wonderful. Just follow the advice above to make sure you’re getting accurate information and know when to consult a parliamentarian with credentials and more experience.
  • Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.

Generally, there are four possible credentials:

Consulting a credentialed parliamentarian means you’re talking to someone who has spent significant time learning parliamentary procedure rules and has taken an examination on some of them. A credentialed parliamentarian should be able to point you in the right direction, if not answer your questions conclusively.

Not all parliamentarian credentials are the same, however. Each requires varying levels of knowledge and experience. Before you “stake your life” on a credentialed parliamentarian’s answer, and definitely before you hire one, learn what his or her credentials mean and ask about the amount and type of experience that he or she has.

  • Lawyer + Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has a law degree, has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure, and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.

Sometimes lawyers make good lay parliamentarians because they have experience counseling organizations on governance issues and have attended numerous business meetings. But a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian brings a greater depth of knowledge and experience to an organization’s parliamentary procedure questions and needs. Similarly, a credentialed parliamentarian who is a lawyer brings the ability to provide legal advice in addition to parliamentary procedure guidance, which is a valuable pairing given that the two fields intersect easily and often.

Step Two: Look for a Parliamentarian in Your Organization or Online.

Once you’ve determined the type of parliamentarian you need, there are several ways to find that person. If you need a lay parliamentarian, ask around among the members of your organization to see if anyone has knowledge and experience that they would be willing to provide on a volunteer basis.

And if you need a credentialed parliamentarian or a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian, start with a simple online search, or contact the National Association of Parliamentarians or American Institute of Parliamentarians. Both organizations can give you contact information for individuals who are certified.