I’ve been elected Chairperson… now what?

The role of presider is critical for the success of the meeting.

A presiding officer may be called a chairperson or president and they have a critical task. The goal for any meeting is to provide an opportunity for everyone to participate, for no one to monopolize the conversations, and for all opinions to be heard. That may sound simple, but as any presider of a meeting knows, it’s not always an easy task.

The preparation to be a presider starts before the meeting is called to order. The presider should believe in the organization, be familiar with its bylaws and organizational policies, and have a thorough understanding of parliamentary procedure. In fact, practicing presiding in advance can help build confidence necessary to help run a strong meeting.

The chair should come prepared with items needed before the meeting begins. Some of the items that the presider should bring with them include, but are not limited to a copy of the organizations bylaws, a list of standing and special committees and their members, the agenda and a copy of their parliamentary authority.

The first responsibility is for the presider to be sure that there is a quorum before beginning the actual business of the meeting. If a quorum is present, the presider announces that this so. If not, the presider announces one is not present, and then tells the assembly how they can proceed. The first next official duty of the presider is to announce, “The meeting will come to order.” It is a good idea to practice this exact wording. There are two advantages to this. One is that when the words are fully memorized, the chair doesn’t have to think about what needs to be said and can then concentrate on what is happening without being distracted. The other is that the assembly gets to know what the various phrases signal is going to happen next. It helps them keep track of what is going on. The next responsibility is for the presider to be sure that there is a quorum before beginning the actual business of the meeting. If a quorum is present, the presider announces that this so. If not, he/she says it is not present, and then tells the assembly how they can proceed. The presider may then announce in proper sequence the business that will come before the assembly. Typically, the agenda is printed and distributed to the whole assembly with all the details included.

During the meeting, the presider will need to handle all motions that come before the assembly. This process should include recognizing members who wish to speak in debate, alternating between those in favor and those opposed, taking the vote and announcing the result. Additionally, during the meeting the presider should keep the business moving and not waste the time of the membership. When a motion is frivolous or dilatory, the motion should be ruled out of order. The chair should never decide that a motion is out of order just because the presider disagrees with it. Impartiality is critical to good presiding. The chair makes all decisions about issues of order and parliamentary procedure. Sometimes the presider is uncertain about the correct decision on an issue, in that case he/she may simply say so and put the issue to a vote of the membership.

It’s important to remember that the presider may also have a role as a member of the organization. The presider may vote on motions, may preside during nominations and elections even if they are a candidate, may vote for him/herself for office, may call upon a vice-president to preside at any time, and may debate motions providing the chair is surrendered until the question is decided.

The last responsibility of the presider during the meeting is to declare the meeting adjourned. This is a place where there is usually no need for a formal motion, second and vote. If the business is finished and no one has any further business to present, the presider can simply say that this is the case and that the meeting is therefore adjourned. RONR (11th ed.), p. 82-83.

Outside of the meeting, the presider may have additional duties including signing all correspondence, contracts, minutes with the secretary, and checks with the treasurer. Members who use parliamentary procedure correctly can get the business of the organization accomplished efficiently. At the MSU Extension Parliamentary Procedure Resource Page you will find articles to help answer your parliamentary questions and links to helpful references and activities.

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 MSU Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure.

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