Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Take charge of that meeting: 8 ways to make sense of Robert's Rules of Order

If you're going to chair meetings or rise to a high post in your professional society, you're likely to run up against Robert's Rules of Order. In the U.S., it's the most widely used authority on parliamentary procedure--and many a meeting chair has struggled to follow those rules. A reader of The Eloquent Woman wrote in recently to say:
I've been trained in facilitation, but now chair boards that follow Robert's Rules of Order which I'm not that familiar with--and have not found a good resource (only one that is dense and antiquated). It would be great if you could identify one.
I've found 8 resources--all sizes and styles--for you to dip into if you need to master Robert's Rules. I find it helps to keep in mind the purpose of the rules, which help establish important meeting issues for women, such as who gets to speak next, allowing speakers to speak without interruption in favor of turn-taking, making sure that there's room for debating issues to be voted upon, and more. More recent editions of the book include versions of the rules for videoconferences and conference calls, an area where most of us need help taking turns and getting a word in edgewise. Check out these useful aids to learning the rules:
  1. Start at the source: Robert's Rules publishes its own Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief, not quite a pocket guide at 208 pages, but an abbreviated version you may find useful. It also offers a plan for study if you're starting your own group to learn the rules.
  2. Motion study: Robert's Rules also publishes a free, printable quick chart of motions you can make, including at-a-glance information on whether they need a second, whether you can be interrupted and more.
  3. Cheat sheets galore: Many organizations have watched their members and staff struggle with the rules, so cheat sheets abound. Try the civil engineers cheat sheet, the dummies cheat sheet or the city of Madison's guide. Or, if you're working with a particular organization -- like 4H, a PTO, or a homeowner's association -- search for the generic group name along with "Robert's Rules." Someone may already have anticipated your need and produced a guide for it.
  4. Charting your way through the rules is this six-page chart version of Robert's Rules Of Order, useful for posting in your office if several of your colleagues need to have a ready reference.
  5. Bully pulpit? The Guerrilla Guide to Robert's Rules takes a different approach, comparing parliamentary procedure to guerilla warfare. It applies Robert's Rules to keeping bullies in check in meetings, and using the rules to get your way when decisions are being made. I like that it discusses how bullies use misconceptions to sway the debate, a good tactic to keep in mind.
  6. Plainspoken rules: Robert's Rules of Order in Plain and Simple English aims to clarify the entire rule book in simpler language; this book comes in Kindle and paperback versions.
  7. Smart option: Robert's Rules For Dummies breaks it down for you in the classic "For Dummies" format that's anything but stupid. Included in this guide are sample agendas and minutes, as well as other easy-to-follow checklists and advice. This volume was updated in 2012.
  8. Robert's Rules Made Simple offers DVDs and books to guide you through the process of learning the rules. Watch a preview on YouTube about mastering the three most important motions.
Need more help than a book can provide? The National Association of Parliamentarians certifies professional parliamentary experts and you can even hire one to help your board meeting or assembly follow Robert's Rules smoothly. In my own experience, it's helpful to designate someone officially as the parliamentarian and give her the training she needs to advise you on a case-by-case basis. Please do share your own favorite resources on the rules in the comments.

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