How to Preside Without Being Overbearing
Being Patient and Professional
Remain neutral in the chair
This is a principle that many chairs in political organizations struggle with. As chair, you are responsible for maintaining a fair process. One of the key elements to this is not taking sides or participating in debate in any way. Otherwise, people may accuse you of ruling or presiding in such a way to get what you want. This undermines the entire authority of a chair and can easily lead to divisions. The only time it is recommended for a chair to participate in debate is if the issue at hand is critical for the organization to function or stay true to its objectives. At that time, the chair should step down for the duration of the debate and vote and allow the vice chair or another to preside in their stead. This can be difficult if the vice chairs have already spoken in debate and therefore cannot assume the role of chair, so coordinate with your vice chairs ahead of time and make sure they realize that they may be called upon to preside, so they should observe the same general rules as the chair.
Always follow the rules
Willfully breaking the rules to influence the process can be the kiss of death for a chair. Once the body realizes that the chair has failed to follow the rules, their confidence can be shattered and the chance for recovery for the chair is remote. A chair can be removed from their position at any meeting if 2/3 of the body vote to do so. Any ruling of the chair can be overruled by a simple majority upon appeal. Realize that you represent the will of the majority until the majority override you and you’ll be less likely to break the rules, knowing that if caught you can’t be successful.
Help members craft motions
Whether on the floor or before meetings, be helpful. Many members do not know the proper process or language and helping them perfect their motion ahead of time will make them more confident bringing it. Even if you don’t agree or would vote against the motion if given the chance, help them. This goes back to the first section, remain neutral.
Foster an environment of fairness
Explaining rules briefly if they are challenged or misunderstood beats gaveling someone down any day. Your leadership in being fair can positively influence the body to be fair with each other. When the body treats each other with fairness and there is a culture of fairness in place, many of the pitfalls an organization can encounter will be avoided.
Be observant of quorum requirements
In your bylaws you should have a quorum defined. This should be the minimum number of members that have to be present to do business without taking advantage of absentees. Percentages can quickly outgrow average attendance and every organization’s member engagement can ebb and flow. Make sure you have an appropriate quorum and make sure that as the meeting continues and people may leave early that you don’t get to a point where things are being passed without a healthy number of people to ensure fairness and proper debate. While a member can call for a quorum check, it is your responsibility as chair to keep an eye on it and proactively address it before a member needs to speak up on the subject.
Begin and end meetings on time
This is one that I personally need to work on. Making sure your officers are arriving early is critical for starting meetings on time. Starting meetings on time can often help end meetings on time. If you start 15 minutes late, whatever time you would have ended on will be 15 minutes later too. Of course there are times where debate gets away from us and critically important issues push our meetings late, but proper agenda building, scheduling, and time management can help. Don’t forget that you can have a “Motion to Adjourn to a Specific Time”. This motion doesn’t end a meeting, it puts it on pause until a specific date/time when it is continued as one whole meeting. You may want to check the schedule for your venue ahead of a meeting starting to see when there are available time slots for an adjourned meeting to continue on. This little check ahead will make sure you are prepared for this scenario and give the body the confidence it needs to be comfortable adjourning temporarily, knowing their business will not be dropped.