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.

A Quick Guide to Election by AcclamationIf you’ve attended any number of meetings or conventions where parliamentary procedure is used and elections are happening, you may have heard someone say, “I move that we elect by acclamation.” Or, post-election, someone may announce, “Peter Politicker is elected by acclamation!” At which point, everyone claps vigorously, and Peter Politicker gives an acceptance speech that is, of course, several minutes longer than necessary.

During Peter’s speech, you may be thinking, (a) Peter just joined our organization last year. How did he even get elected? (b) What in the world does “acclamation” mean? or (c) I wanted to vote “no.” Why didn’t the chair ask for the “no” votes?

I can’t help you with that first question, but if you want answers to b and c, read on.

“Acclamation” Means “Enthusiastic Approval”

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what “acclamation” means. According to Webster’s, “acclamation” is “a loud eager expression of approval, praise, or assent.” So, to elect by “acclamation” means to elect by a loud expression of approval – such as clapping.

Election by Acclamation Is Allowed When Only One Person Is Nominated

According to Robert’s Rules, election by acclamation is reserved for those times when only one person is nominated. Because there’s only one candidate and no other options, there’s no need to say, “All those in favor of Peter Politicker, say ‘aye.’ All those opposed, say, ‘no.’” Instead, the group can simply declare – by enthusiastic approval – that Peter is elected. In short, when a candidate is uncontested, the election becomes a declaration of a result – by clapping – rather than a traditional picking between options.

Be cautious though. The chair does have to make sure that in fact only one person has been nominated. And he can do this by asking those present at the meeting if there are any further nominations.

Election by Acclamation Is Not Allowed When the Bylaws Require a Ballot Vote

Before you get too excited about saving time at your next convention and electing everyone by acclamation, check your bylaws. If the bylaws require elections to take place by ballot, you cannot elect by acclamation. Electing by acclamation is a form of voice vote, and if the bylaws say, “Ballot vote required for elections,” then you have to use ballots and save the vigorous clapping for another day.

Election by Acclamation Means that No One Gets to Vote “No”

Here’s one more quick tip. If you want to look like you’re a parliamentary procedure pro (and who wouldn’t?), don’t ask for a “no” vote. Here’s why: You don’t want to give the group the option of not electing anyone at all.

Think about it this way. When at least two candidates are on the ballot, you check one box – for Peter Politicker or for Sally Smoothtalker. Because there’s not (and shouldn’t be) a “yes” and “no” box for each person, you vote against one by voting for the other. And the effect is that one of them is elected to office. But when only one candidate is nominated and a voice vote is taken, the only way to prevent a scenario where no one is elected is to just not give the group that option.

Here are the takeaways. Election by acclamation is a good thing. Use it when your bylaws don’t require a ballot vote and when only one person is nominated for office. And by all means . . . clap loudly and make Peter Politicker’s day.