How to Be Presidential According to Robert's Rules

Serving as president (or grand factotum, or whatever title is given to the presiding/chief executive officer) gives you the unparalleled opportunity to make a difference in your group’s work. However, before you ever think about buckling down and implementing your bold ideas, you need to get familiar with the basics.

Your success as president depends on your willingness to absorb a lot in a short time. You need to take these actions before you call your first meeting to order:

  • Get a current copy of your group’s adopted parliamentary authority. If that authority is Robert’s Rules, be careful not to buy one of the many knock-offs of the title or an early edition that authorized revisions have long since superseded.

  • Read and understand your organization’s charter, bylaws, special rules of order, and standing rules. You’ve probably already read these documents at least once if you’re a member of the organization, but read them again as if it were your first time. Pay attention to any of your rules that seem to be in conflict with the way things have been done lately, and set a course to do things according to the rules under your leadership.

During meetings of your organization, you have these duties:

  • Determine whether a quorum is present and call the meeting to order.

  • Bring business before the meeting according to your order of business.

  • Recognize members who seek and are entitled to the floor.

  • Put all legitimate motions before the group.

  • Enforce the rules of debate, and grant all members who want to speak in debate the opportunity to do so, subject to the rules and limits of debate.

  • Conduct the votes on all questions, and determine and announce the results.

  • Rule improper motions out of order.

  • Decide questions of order, or ask the members to decide, when you’re in doubt.

  • Respond to parliamentary inquiries or points of information.

  • Conclude the meeting by declaring it adjourned when voted by the members, when the appointed hour for adjournment arrives, or when an emergency arises and safety demands it.

Along with polishing up your presiding skills and techniques, you can adopt a few practices to ensure the quality of your meetings. The tips that follow are recommendations for producing effective meetings that run smoothly.

  • Keep your rules handy.

  • Plan your meeting.

  • Insist on following fundamental procedures.

  • Make sure the members know what they’re voting on.

  • Avoid the temptation to say, “You’ve heard the motion. Those in favor say ‘Aye.’” Much of the time, the members haven’t heard the motion, and confusion will inevitably erupt — if not before the vote, then right afterward. Save the time wasted by confusion and outbursts, and be clear about the exact wording of the question that the next vote decides.

If there was ever a key to success as a presiding officer, maintaining the appearance of impartiality is it. Members may know that you have an agenda for the organization. In fact, you were probably elected because you have some vision and ability.

But when you’re presiding over the meeting, leave it to your members to do all the debating; step back and let things take care of themselves. You’ll sink your ship of state if you attempt to throttle members unjustly or take advantage of their ignorance of proper form or procedure.

The presiding officer who helps the assembly arrive at its true deliberative will is the winner on all counts.

As your group’s president, you’re more than likely also the chief administrative officer. You have to countersign checks and attest to resolutions published as extracts of the minutes (such as those furnished to banks when opening or changing info on accounts). If your group buys or sells any real estate or enters into any contracts, your signature is the seal of the organization.

Your bylaws may also assign other duties to the president. You may be considered a member of all your standing committees, and you probably have some responsibility to make committee appointments.

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