A Parliamentarian’s Role at Meetings and Conventions

Association Insights

 A Q&A with Dave Bennett – When is it Advisable to Hire a Parliamentarian for Meetings and Conventions

Jan 17, 2017 By: Matt Bradford

To hire a parliamentarian or not to hire a parliamentarian? That is the question we posed to Dave Bennett, a professional registered parliamentarian with over 15 years in senior management with non-profit associations and over 25 years in executive management.

What is a professional parliamentarian’s role during meetings and conventions?

Many believe a parliamentarian’s role is purely advisory and educational. This is somewhat true, considering the parliamentarian will certainly serve as a procedural advisor for the presiding officer, to the board, and to the members before and during the meetings. If approved by the assembly, the parliamentarian may also serve as the presiding officer to allow the chair to participate in the discussion or when an impartial chair is needed during contentious meetings. The parliamentarian may also offer a parliamentary opinion on a difficult issue or offer advice on the wording of resolutions, agendas, meeting rules of order, or minute taking.

There is no set rule for the number of additional functions a parliamentarian may be asked to perform.  Some may include assisting the Chair prepare before a meeting, teaching classes on procedures such as how to make motions, advising on how to make the meeting more productive and efficient, assessing the meeting and providing recommendations to enable more effective meetings and engaged decisions making, coordinating and managing the nomination and election process, and holding a session before the convention meetings to answer questions for members.

 So a parliamentarian isn’t there to only assist the chair?

One of the fundamental principles of parliamentary rules is to assist the members of an assembly to conduct the business of the organization effectively, efficiently, and with fairness, while protecting the democratic process. Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th Edition (RONR (11th ed.), states that, “A member of an assembly, in the parliamentary sense, is a person entitled to full participation in its proceedings, that is, the right to attend meetings, to make motions, to speak in debate, and to vote. No member can be individually deprived of these basic rights of membership—or of any basic rights concomitant to them, such as the right to make nominations or to give previous notice of a motion – except through disciplinary proceedings.”

Therefore, it is the role of the parliamentarian to also provide advice to the presiding officer to ensure the members’ rights are protected. Although, a majority decision of the members is binding on the entire membership and all members should accept and abide by this decision, the parliamentarian must also advise the chair when the rights of individual members and of the minority are being threatened, such as the majority not giving the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case.

When advising the chair, an experienced parliamentarian will often see a problem developing and can prevent it with a few words to the chair.

When should a board hire a professional parliamentarian?

In deciding on whether to hire a professional parliamentarian for a general meeting, I would ask if the chair has sufficient experience and understanding of the organization’s governing documents and rules of order to lead confidently. Meeting with members can be stressful for board members; especially for the chair if he or she does not have sufficient experience and understanding of parliamentary rules and the governing rules of the organization to know when and how the rules should be used to enable effectiveness and not impede the decision-making process during meetings. Many things can arise during a meeting that could cause tension, stall the decision-making process, or even end the meeting with nothing accomplished.

What is the return on investment for hiring a parliamentarian?

One of the key roles for the professional parliamentarian is in assisting the chair use the rules to move the meeting forward in a flexible and helpful approach to achieve good decision making and the desired outcomes. If the chair is not prepared and not knowledgeable or experienced enough to do so, then engaging a parliamentarian will be a good return on investment.

Dave Bennett is a professional registered parliamentarian, and owner of Dave Bennett Consulting. For more information and advice, visit www.davebennettconsulting.com.