Guide on the Side - Parliamentary Procedure (Part I), How and Why to Improve Your Skills

By Marie Wallace, Published on September 4, 2000

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.


Recently a reader, who wanted to become more effective in organizations, asked where to find training to improve her parliamentary procedure (PP) skills. What a great question! People frequently need to know how to present their ideas in a parliamentary context and it requires a different skill set than public speaking. Consider the statistics.

In this meeting rich environment, there are many reasons for a person to become PP-proficient:

How do you go about improving knowledge or getting hands-on experience either as an individual or organization? High schools and colleges rarely offer PP classes any more and many organizations do not present a good teaching model. Fortunately, you can use your favorite search engine to search "parliamentary procedure" and find a variety of excellent resources for training both individuals and organizations. Your options are by skill level (basic, advanced or certified teacher) or by type of instructor (organization, consultant or do-it-yourself).

The Organization Approach is ideal for persons with aspirations of holding national office in large organizations. Many national associations maintain memberships or routinely send their newly elected officers to this type of training.

Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised (www.robertsrules.com)

Alice Sturgis's Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure

Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure

The Do-It-Yourself Approach can be used if there is a guru parliamentarian accessible for guidance. Organizations always have the option of designing their own PP workshops or learning events. National associations sometimes provide roving practicums for their regional or local chapters. The do-it-yourself approach reinforces the organization's values and builds trust at the same time that members learn. Individuals who want to embark on a self-study program of reading and observation should look to their national organizations which usually provide excellent learning models. They can also go to bookstores, libraries or online for materials, such as these:

One issue of the Parliamentary Internet Newsletter reports interesting field research in community organizations. It is a Communication Monograph by Al Weitzel and Patricia Geist, Professors of Communication at San Diego State University, entitled "Parliamentary Procedure in a Community Group from a Communication Perspective." The authors summarize how PP impacts talk within a group and, in turn, how it affects the way members think about problems, options and consequences.

The communication dimension is an important part of the PP picture. More than rules determine what happens in meetings. Have you noticed that people behave differently on Boards than they do as individuals? This was expressed succinctly by a resigning member of a youth group Board. In frustration, he wrote in his departing letter "I don't understand how people who are so intelligent and public spirited individually can act so stupid and mean spirited collectively." Note that he was not complaining about parliamentary procedure. He was bemoaning lack of a shared vision and the way members approached problems facing the organization.

Coming Attractions

Part 2 of Parliamentary Procedure will expand the organizational issue: What an organization can do to create a community of interest and promote team work. I call this the "Organizational Infrastructure." Without a strong infrastructure, cavalier and dismissive attitudes about PP are likely to form. The question of PP training is an organizational issue as well as an individual one.

Part 3 will be "The Reality," a collection of your PP experiences--good, bad, or ugly.

Send your stories to me at [email protected] by date October 10, 2000 and give me permission to edit. I will compile them (anonymously) into a tapestry of organizational experience.