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Robert's Rules for Participating in Meetings

Participating in a meeting run by Robert's Rules is not a matter of just jumping into a discussion whenever you like. You have to be recognized by the presiding officer, so knowing how to get the attention of that person is key.

To participate effectively, follow these protocols:

  • Address the presiding officer by title: Robert's Rules provides that an officer's title should be used as defined in the bylaws, or the rules of order. In Robert's Rules, "Chairman" is considered as gender neutral as "Director" or "Governor." But courtesy demands that a person's preference as to the usage of their title be honored. Accordingly, "Madam Chair" or "Madam Chairperson" is not incorrect if it's the pleasure of a woman holding the position of presiding officer.

    A vice-president is addressed as Mr./Madam President when actually presiding. If the president is only temporarily out of the chair and is still present at the meeting, Mr./Madam Vice President is appropriate. Any other person temporarily occupying the chair is properly addressed as Mr./Madam Chairman.

  • Speak through the chair: When addressing another member, you never go wrong by speaking through the chair. Refrain from using the member's name if you can avoid it. Respect is conveyed by depersonalizing comments made in debate. For example, "Mr. Chairman, does the member who just spoke have information on the cost of his proposal?" works much better than, "Dang it Fred, have you thought about how much your stupid idea is gonna cost us?" Formality has its benefits.

  • Wait for recognition before speaking: Before you launch into your speech, get recognition. When you and your fellow members properly seek recognition and refrain from speaking until the chair has recognized you, you allow the presiding officer to do her job. A presiding officer who understands the rules for preference in obtaining recognition and applies them impartially has the control necessary to conduct balanced debate, and this control gives him the respect due to the station.

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