How formal do our board meetings really need to be?

Customs of formality help keep order at board meetings.

Many questions about Parliamentary Procedure are directed to MSU Extension on a regular basis. One such question that repeatedly arises is “How formal does our board really need to be?” Robert’s Rule of Order Newly Revised (RONR (11th ed.)) explains that customs of formality that are demonstrated by the presiding officer and the members of the board under parliamentary procedure help establish the chair’s position of impartiality and help to maintain an objective and neutral approach, especially when diverse opinions arise.

The president or chair of the meeting should be addressed as “Mr. President” or “Madam President.” Even in small meetings, RONR (11th ed.) suggests that the presiding officer should not be referred to by his or her name. Additionally, it highlights that they should also not be addressed by the pronoun “you.”

Members also need to remember that they only address another member through the chair. Respect is conveyed by not making personalized comments in debate. For example, “Mr. Chairman, does the member who just spoke have information on the procedure?” is exhibiting better decorum than, “Are you kidding me Susie, do you have any idea how we could even implement that concept?” Formality in this example is crucial.

Just as ‘The Donald’ does, the chair should also only refer to themselves in the third person. They shouldn’t use the pronoun “I” and should use language such as “The chair rules that…” or “Your president is pleased to report…” The chair should be conscious to also not use the names of members, but rather referring to them in a manner such as “The chair must ask the member to confine his remarks to the merits of the pending question.”

The best advice is to “Lead by example” “Walk the walk.” After all, if you don’t exhibit the proper level of formality in your meetings, why would the public exhibit any different actions?

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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