How to Preside Without Being Overbearing – Part 1

How to Preside Without Being Overbearing

No one is born a leader, it is something that we learn through education, experience, and at times, trial and error. Once that gavel is placed in our hands, some of us can begin to behave differently. One thing to always remember is that we were elected as Chairs for “how we were” not the dictatorial hard-ass that hostile situations can pull us toward becoming. Members take all forms and not every member will be as easy to deal with as others. Keeping your cool under the pressure of those that are impatient, rude, disrespectful, mean-spirited or downright underhanded is not easy.

How can we become good leaders in the face of these obstacles? There are 8 areas we can focus on.


  • Rule #1 - You are never, ever going to "wing it" and do a good job.

    Use scripts to help prepare for meetings and help your officers and yourself become more comfortable with the style and pace that works best for your membership. But remember, scripts are guides, not something that you should be reading from verbatim.

  • Solicit advice from people who are good at presiding

    The Chairs Org is the place to come with questions. The whole purpose of this organization is to help make our leaders stronger and more empowered. We have a mix of chairs with varying experience levels and skill sets. Both the officers and your fellow chairs are here to help.

  • Use the Internet to help you come up to speed

    There are countless videos and training resources on sites like YouTube. The National Association of Parliamentarians site has resources as well. Keep in mind, not everything on the internet is correct, so look for consensus, not just the one site that agrees with how you think things should be.

  • Make videos of your meetings and review them to help you improve

    This suggestion carries with it some caveats. If you decide to do this, make sure people know they are being recorded and keep recordings confidential. Members must feel free to express themselves without worrying that what they say will be used against them. Be clear how the recordings are going to be used and what will be done with them when you are finished reviewing them. If members object, don’t force the issue. Your officers can provide subjective feedback that is often more valuable than the self-critique that videos provide.

  • Solicit feedback from your officers at meeting post-mortems

    Meet up directly after the meeting or a day or two after while the memory is fresh. Discuss what was done well, what could use improvement, and brainstorm ideas to make improvements. Solicit feedback from other Chairs as well. No one has all the good ideas.

  • Learn to use (self-deprecating non-sarcastic) humor to lighten up meetings

    If you’re not naturally good at this, use with caution. Never make a joke at another members expense. Even if meant in a lighthearted way, people may be injured by both what you say, and more importantly, where you are saying it from. Self-deprecation also needs to be done carefully. We can definitely take ourselves too seriously, but conversely, too much self-deprecation can undermine our authority and the trust of the body in our ability to lead. That said, a little humor can go a long way to defusing volatile or embarrassing situations.

  • Use recesses and stand-at-eases to let off steam and re-focus meetings.

    Sitting and listening to speakers and debating for two or more hours is very taxing. Giving members at least a half-time breather can provide a much needed reset. Consider having a 5-10 minute recess after a particularly long guest speaker finishes so members can quickly engage with the speaker before they have to leave. Or have a break before going into Old/New Business. Manage your time well and make sure everyone is aware the meeting is coming back to order before you begin.

A thank you goes out to Dana Dickson, RP for generously providing the basic outline that this training series is based on.

About the Author

Micah Rowland

Micah Rowland is the former Chair of the Washington State Democratic Chairs Organization, Chair of the 21st Legislative District Democrats, and Vice Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats. He is a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians where he has attended training events at both the 2016 NTC and the 2017 Leadership Conference & Biennial Convention.