One of our clients recently asked this question:
“At our last AGM one of our members took the floor and refused to relinquish it. He dominated the meeting for 30 minutes a series of questions and adding gratuitous commentary after each answer was provided by the board. How can we avoid this next year?”
This and similar problems in board relate to the ability and willingness of the Chair to take control of the meeting and keep it moving. Many Chairs do not have the confidence that they need to enforce proper procedure. This is often because they don’t know what the procedure should be.
One of the services we often perform for our clients is briefing new directors and officers on their responsibilities and providing them with tips and tricks to do their job more effectively.
So here a few tips and tricks:
First of all, be aware of Roberts Rules and your own by-laws. Roberts Rules provides for the following:
1) members are limited to ten minutes per speech,
2) members are limited to two speeches per day per question, and
3) remarks in debate must be relevant to the question
This member was clearly in violation of #1. And at an AGM, 10 minutes per speech is probably excessive. However, rules are worthless unless they are enforced. This has to be done by the person who is chairing the AGM (usually the Chair of the board). Your best bet is to anticipate the problem in advance and have a well-orchestrated set of tactics to manage it.
- The job of the Chair. The meeting Chair has the right and the obligation to close a discussion if it is time to move on to the next question or agenda item. The Chair’s mistake was not stating the rules in advance and continuing to answer the member’s questions after his time was up. The Chair should have informed the member that his time was up, given him his options and asked him to relinquish the floor to the next question. In terms of offering options he could have suggested that the member contact the board in writing with the rest of his questions and that he would be responded to in due course.
- Establish the beforehand. Before the floor is opened to questions, the Chair should clearly state the rules. For example, the Chair might state that each member is entitled to ask one question and then to relinquish the mic without further commentary.
- Use a handler to control the microphone. If you are using a microphone for Q&A, consider having a “handler” on the floor to control the mic. For example, members who have questions raise their hand, then the handler recognizes them and ask them to approach the mic. When they have stated their question he asks them to return to their seat for the answer. While the question is being answered he directs the next questioner to the mic. Coach the directors in advance to not answer the question until the questioner has relinquished the mic.