Steps to Effective Presiding

By Diana Bacon, MBA

Do you feel comfortable presiding over a business meeting? Presiding for the first time may be emotionally similar to presenting your first public presentation – it can be stressful. To help ease the stress of presiding, I am sharing a few steps that you can take to become an effective presider.

The presiding officer, which is typically the president of the organization, society, or club, should know the basic steps, starting with memorizing the order of business, common procedures and standard wording. With study and practise, you will find presiding over meetings to become increasingly stress-free. Preparing for meetings and creating a scripted agenda is like preparing to deliver a speech – it takes time to prepare and practise, but it is worth the effort.

At the meetings, the presiding officer should use the eight steps for handling a main motion. This is fundamental to ensuring clarity on what is to be discussed and to be voted upon. The eight steps are:

  1. Member stands to be recognized by the chair
  2. Member makes a motion
  3. Another member seconds the motion
  4. Chair states the motion
  5. Members debate the motion
  6. Chair restates the motion
  7. Chair puts the question to a vote
  8. Chair announces the result of the vote and the effect of the adopted motion

Small board of not more than a dozen members present, some of the formality in larger assemblies is not necessary. Keep in mind, though, that more formal rules may be more practical at certain times.

These are rules that are different for small boards: (RONR, pp. 487-488)

  • Members may raise a hand instead of standing to seek recognition and may remain seated while making motions or speaking
  • Motions need not be seconded (usually discussion has preceded the motion so the second is not necessary)
  • There is no limit to the number of time a member can speak to a pending question
  • Informal discussion of a subject is permitted while no question is pending
  • When a proposal is perfectly clear to all present, a vote can be taken without a motion having been introduced. Unless agree to by unanimous consent, however, all proposed actions must be approved by vote under the same rules as in larger meetings, except that a vote can be taken initially by a show of hands, which is often a better method in small meetings.
  • The chair need not rise while putting questions to a vote
  • If the chair is a member, without leaving the chair, may speak in informal discussions, in debate, and vote on all questions.

The chair needs to know the type and method of voting for certain motions. Some motions required a majority, while others require two-thirds; some votes may be made while seated, while others require standing; others may be handled by unanimous consent; and a few are by ruling of the chair.

There are rules in place primarily to protect members’ rights. There may be times that require the enforcement of the rules and other times that warrant a suspension of the rules. There are also rules of decorum that need to be followed to ensure meetings are conducted in an orderly fashion. The patterns of formality that serve to maintain decorum include:

  • Address only the chair, or through the chair
  • Only one speaker at a time
  • Stand to speak, unless a small board or committee
  • Speak only after recognition by the chair
  • The chair refers to himself only in the third person (never “I)
  • Confining remarks to the merits of the pending question
  • Refraining from attacking another member’s motives
  • Refrain from speaking against one’s own motion
  • Member should be seated if the chair interrupts
  • Refrain from disturbing the assembly or getting in the way of business

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) (11th edition) is the primary resource for presiding officers. To become familiar with parliamentary procedure, it is highly recommended to have a copy of the current edition of RONR. Check out the contents, index and helpful charts, tables and lists in the tinted pages in the back of the book. Use the book to prepare for meetings, writing meeting scripts, and use during meetings.

On our journey as a director on various boards, we develop communication and leadership skills. Now is the time to take the next step in your journey and learn to preside effectively at meetings. With study, practise and time, you will gain skill and confidence in the role of chair.

Note: The current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (RONR) is written in the most organization’s bylaws as the parliamentary authority. Learning RONR will help you and your group to be prepared to handle business and make decisions in business meetings!