Order, order! Sometimes a gavel seems necessary to keep a meeting on track. Side conversation, discussion that goes nowhere, and poor meeting etiquette are all contributors to sidetracking a well-meaning conference call.
The ideal meeting is controlled with careful measures that make the meeting run smoothly but don’t make it overly stuffy. The key is to reach the goals that were set before the meeting as efficiently as possible. Robert’s Rules of Order was created exactly for this purpose. It’s a well-known strategy for keeping meetings on point and maintaining fairness in all meeting processes.
While Robert’s Rules have traditionally been applied to in-person meetings, there’s no reason they can’t be helpful for a videoconference. For each meeting, you may need to tweak how you implement Robert’s Rules of Order, depending on the purpose and goals of the meeting. Here’s a basic introduction to Robert’s Rules of Order so you can use them for your next online meeting.
A Designated “Chair” Maintains Control
In a meeting governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, someone, usually the leader of the meeting, is assigned the role of Chair. Their job is to make sure that the meeting stays on track and its participants don’t become unruly. This can include responsibilities such as reading agenda items, stopping arguments, and interrupting when a particular discussion has gone on too long.
Everyone Else’s Job is To Stay on Topic
To make the Chair’s job easier, each participant has a responsibility to stick to the topic at hand (also called a motion in Robert’s Rules) without going off on a tangent. It can be tempting to talk about what you want to talk about, even if it’s not related to what’s going on in the meeting. Take one for the team and resist. The better the group sticks to the topic, the more progress will be made and the faster the meeting will be over.
Participants Get Their Turn to Speak
When someone wants to make a comment about a motion, they must raise their hand and be called upon by the Chair. The Chair goes around the room in a fair order, allowing everyone who wants to speak on an issue to have their turn. Before any individual can speak again, the Chair ensures that everyone has spoken in that round of comments. This method keeps anyone from speaking out of turn, talking over others, or having side conversation.
Courtesy and Professionalism are Paramount
Above all, all participants, including the Chair, are expected to keep things professional. Discussions should be held with the goal in mind, and individuals should keep any personal issues or ulterior motives out of it. Being courteous, respectful and congenial in all meeting interactions will not only make the meeting more pleasant, but also keep it going strong.
Rules to Remember
The above guidelines set the tone and pace of the meeting and lay the groundwork for applying the Rules. The actual Rules dictate how certain situations should be handled. These are a few that can easily be put into place in an online meeting:
“Point of privilege”: When someone says, “point of privilege,” they do so when someone else is talking. Interrupting the speaker seems to contradict the rules, but in this case, it’s important for keeping order in the meeting. Someone can use “point of privilege” to note some noise or other distraction that is causing problems in the meeting. The Chair then decides what action to take.
“Point of information”: This is another case where the speaker can be interrupted. When using the “point of information” rule, the individual does so to ask for more information or ask the speaker a question. It comes into play to help avoid confusion and aid decision-making.
“I move that we table it”: You may have heard this phrase used in a meeting before. It’s used to halt the discussion for the time being until a later meeting. This can be necessary when there are more agenda items to take care of and the discussion on that current topic can’t be resolved. Someone must “second” the motion to table an agenda item and it needs a majority vote to pass.
Learn the Rules from Different Sources
Robert’s Rules is notoriously complicated and reading through the entirety of the guidebook can be daunting. You can always get a basic understanding of the Rules and putting a few selects ones into place. If you want to become an expert, you can get a copy of the official book or consult one of many resources designed to help you learn and adopt the process. There are many great online references that can help you get a grasp on the Rules.