My "Light Bulb" Moment
You may have said to yourself, “Parliamentarian training—what in the world is that? Why do I need this parliamentary training? It sounds like a lot of work! I don’t think I need it. I know how to run a meeting. I know how to resolve these contentious issues.” People often say, “I know, I know”, when actually, they do not know.
When I hear this type of verbal reasoning and rationalization, I really become quite apprehensive when the actions of the decision makers--the chairperson, the president, the board of directors--significantly affect the lives of many.
From years of experience, I can honestly say, I don’t agree with this rationalization process, yet, I do understand it. It’s based upon the “Law of Belief” from renowned author and motivational speaker, Brian Tracy. In brief, the law states, whatever we believe with feeling becomes our reality and we always act in a manner that is consistent with these innermost beliefs and convictions, even if we are wrong. The major issue is that we often do not see ourselves as being wrong.
It will be impossible for me to forget my journey to become a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. I had been elected to fill a key position with Toastmasters International. I had worked in many positions during my military career; hence, I thought the position would require minimum work and little training. However, it was not so this time. My “light bulb” moment came when I observed a District Council meeting. This council meeting consisted of voting delegates from throughout a designated geographical area. The meeting should have taken an hour to one hour and fifteen minutes, yet it lasted for almost three hours. After the meeting, the presiding officer’s comments were, “It’s not my fault, blame it on the Parliamentarian.” I swore that would never happen to me!
Perhaps the most significant question for you to ask yourself is “Why do I need this parliamentarian training?” As I have said before in my previous article, perhaps you don’t need the training. Discussing this issue with others—parliamentarians, trainers, speakers, etc.,—many don’t realize that they need a parliamentarian or need any training, until problems arise…then, it’s too late.
As I mentioned before, my “light bulb” moment was when I saw how not to handle a meeting when you are in charge. Until that moment, it was just a thought about doing something to help improve myself. Once I saw the demonstrated example, it no longer became something that I needed to do. In time, it became something that I had to do, something that I “must” do for my survival, for my professionalism, and for myself!
Recently, I asked one of my mentees, (I will not user her real name here, but I will just call her Debra), the newly Registered Parliamentarian, what her "light bulb” moment was. Debra had an entirely different situation from mine. She was a member of a woman’s professional organization. There was an issue concerning a dues increase, which was nominal from her perspective, but some members of the organization felt otherwise. The discussion of the issue kept going back and forth like a tennis match, she explained. Time for discussion of the issue was continuously extended. Debra said, “I found it exciting and interesting.” She knew she wanted to find out about this “parliamentary procedure” thing and she knew that she needed it because of her affiliation with other organizations. She also knew that it would require work and a time commitment. Considering all of these factors, and because of her work commitments—even though she was excited-- she decided not to pursue the parliamentarian training at that time. Yet that feeling kept nagging at her; she wanted and needed the training. She knew that in order to have any credibility, she must have the proper credentials.
A few months passed and Debra finally made the decision, “I must be trained”. She asked me to be her trainer and mentor. The training consisted of preparation for the two required examinations. The first was the qualifying exam, followed by the registered examination. To successfully pass the examinations, you must know the ranking and classes of motions, the characteristics of motions, how to handle a motions, voting and nomination methods, how to conduct business in a meeting, governing documents of organizations, how to write opinions, etc. This knowledge base is not easily acquired; in fact, it is somewhat difficult. Debra acknowledged this fact with these comments, “The tests were hard, it was challenging, you need to know the basics, and that’s a very large book.” The book she referred to is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 11TH Edition, and it contains 716 pages. I suggest this book for the professionals. However, for those who are just starting out in parliamentary training and want to learn some basic knowledge about parliamentary procedure, I often recommend the Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief, Fully Updated 2nd Edition (RONR In Brief). The book is only 197 pages and it is very easy to read. There are also simple, brief explanations of the subjects you wish to study. RONR In Brief contains page numbers from the primary reference (RONR 11th ed.) if you wish to study the subject further.
I recall the time after I had passed my first examination and when I was training and studying to pass my registration examination. I also had a mentor who advised me and put in countless hours to ensure that I was ready to pass the examination. The day for the examination was only one week away and even with my intense training, which was now on an almost weekly basis with my mentor, I felt as though I was not ready—I did not want to fail the test. My mentor simply smiled and said, “Come by, let’s answer your questions, and study some more.”
I excelled on the registration examination. My mentor was a wonderful lady and, sadly, she isn’t with us anymore. I try to do what she did for me and “pass it forward.” I help out wherever and whenever I can and I also mentor others.
“It is better to be prepared and not have an opportunity, then to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”
Going back to what actually turned on the “light bulb” for my mentee, Debra, it was not just the decision that she needed the parliamentary training, or that the credentialing would give her added credibility, it was when she was serving as a parliamentarian for me, I had a previous commitment. We had previously planned for the meeting, the script for the presiding officer had been prepared, and all possible issues had been considered. My philosophy is, “It is better to be prepared and not have an opportunity, then to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” We were prepared or at least we thought so. We learned though an informal source that another issue was going to be brought before the assembly, a resolution to amend the organization’s bylaws to include changing the financial reimbursements, and I was not there. Debra had to handle it alone and she did, exceptionally. Debra and I connected on the telephone twice, she met with the presiding officer and the bylaws committee chairperson, and together they devised a plan(s) to handle each issue.
The actual meeting went off flawlessly and her training paid off in dividends. She said, that is when the “light bulb” was turned on for her. She not only found parliamentary procedure to be fun and exciting, her other comments were also quite relevant. She said, “It’s one thing to learn the information, it’s another thing to know it and use it.” She also said, “It makes more sense when you use it, but you must know how to use it and constantly ask yourself, ‘What if…’” Another mentor of mine recently said, “You really don’t learn parliamentary procedure until you use it.”
To summarize everything I have said in this article, parliamentarian training is essential if you serve in any capacity as a parliamentarian. If you are going to serve as a parliamentary trainer, a parliamentary consultant, or as a presiding officer, you must receive proper training and you must get your credentials. These credentials validate that you have the knowledge, competence, training, and ability to perform in a variety of parliamentary roles. You are a credentialed professional. This is not an easy accomplishment; yet, if you set meeting the qualification requirements as one of your goals then you will achieve it. Remember this quote from Diana Scharf Hunt, “Goals are Dreams with Deadlines”. Also, get yourself a good mentor and use what you learn. I promise you, your parliamentary training will payoff in dividends just for you.
I would love to hear from you. What turned on your “light bulb”?