Parliamentary Procedure

Newcomers to Toastmasters are often very frustrated and confused by not knowing how to make Parliamentary Procedure work for them. Parliamentary Procedure is used to express the will of the majority of the members while protecting the rights of the minority to be heard. It’s used by all western governments, most school boards and non-profit organizations and business boards and associations.

Here’s a quick summary of how to use Parliamentary Procedure to get your motion passed:

  1. If you don’t know what to do: Ask. You do this by rising and addressing the chair by saying “I rise to a parliamentary inquiry.” You can do this at anytime and interrupt any speaker. This inquiry requires no seconder and there’s no debate or vote taken. Once the chair recognizes you you’re free to ask your question. If the chair doesn’t know the answer, your question may be directed to the parliamentarian.
  2. When you want to make a motion during the new business session again you must first be recognized by the chair. Then you can rise and say: “I move that…..” The motion must be concise and clear and not contain any arguments (which you’ll be allowed to give once the motion is seconded). Your motion must be seconded (and you can set this up with someone to do prior to the meeting) and then you’ll be asked to speak to the motion as will other members.
  3. Sooner or later the chair will ask if the assembly is ready to vote or members may shout “call the question” which means they’ve heard enough and they’re ready to vote. The chair may or may not act. To pass, your motion needs a simple majority.
  4. To help pass your motion to pass, politic it before the vote. Ask members to support you by voting for your motion.  If it’s a well-thought out and helpful motion, members will listen to you, consider your arguments and your motion will pass. If it’s not a motion that most of the club supports it will fail. That’s democracy in action.
  5. If your motion offends the purposes for which the club meets or otherwise is considered inappropriate (and canvassing the members before hand would have supplied you with this information), someone will rise before you are allowed to make your arguments and “Object to Consideration.”  This motion takes precedent over yours and needs no seconder and gets no debate but goes right to a vote which needs 2/3 of the membership support to pass. If the objection succeeds your motion is lost and cannot be reintroduced.
  6. If your motion goes over to the next meeting because time runs out you may find a member will rise at the next meeting (and if recognized first by the chair) will move “To table the main motion” or “take from the table the motion before us.” This motion requires a seconder but does not get debated and needs only a simple majority to pass. If it passes, it means the majority of the members don’t want to debate your motion and it will languish on the table or be taken from the table and will not move forward.
  7. Here’s a Parliamentary trick. If you see a motion is going to pass which you strongly object to, vote for the motion so it passes! This will allow you at a later date to move to “Reconsider the vote on the motion.” Only members who voted for the motion can raise the issue of reconsidering. You don’t need to be recognized by the chair to make this motion but you do need a seconder and there will be a debate. The vote is by simple majority.
  8. Any member may offer an amendment to your main motion. Any main motion maybe amended twice and twice only. The amendment must not change the main motion in any substantive way but may indicate a change of time or venue but not its actual meaning.
  9. Amendments are seconded, debated and voted upon prior to moving to your main motion which now maybe modified by the amendment(s).
  10. If something is happening (or not happening) which offends Parliamentary Procedure you may rise immediately and say: “I rise to a point of order.” Offences can include members not rising when speaking, other members talking out of turn or a breach of process or decorum.
  11. In our club you’re likely to run out of time before the process finishes. Don’t worry, so long as the motion remains on the table, it gets carried over to the next meeting whether you’re there or not.
  12. One way to avoid running out of time is to move “To Suspend The Rules”. You must be first recognized by the chair and this motion needs a seconder but isn’t debateable and requires a 2/3 vote in favour to pass. If you do suspend the rules, you can spend all night, if you wish, debating your motion.
  13. If the chair rules against you or says something that you disagree with (For example ending the business session.) you may challenge the decision of the chair. You may rise without being recognized by the chair and say: “I appeal from the decision of the chair.” You must have a seconder but there is no debate or amendments allowed and a simple majority rules.
  14. Remember Parliamentary Procedure is critical to running successful business sessions. Once you practice it you will be able to express your opinion (and likely get your way) at any government or governmental agency meeting, any meeting of a charity or non-profit organization, any school board or library board meeting or at any annual meeting of a public company.
  15. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated or angry. Get even by learning Parliamentary Procedure! You’ll be doing yourself and your club a big favour.
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