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Robert's Rules: Participating in Meetings as a Member

Fundamental to effective meeting participation is knowing how to get the attention of your presiding officer so you can be recognized and permitted to speak. Just as important is understanding the way to avoid getting personal in debate by asking questions of the other members through the chair.

Addressing the presiding officer

In meetings, your presiding officer should be addressed by title, such as "Madam Chairman" or "Mr. President." 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." (Not many female members of a board of directors or a board of governors want to be called a "Directrix" or a "Governess," the traditional feminine forms of "Director" and "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.

When addressing the presiding officer, avoid the second person, as in "Madam Chairman, are you sure that . . .?" Instead, use "Madam Chairman, is the chair certain of . . .?"

Speaking 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.

Waiting 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 his 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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