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

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.

  • The average adult American belongs to 6 organized groups at any one time.

  • There are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the U.S.

  • Most organizations listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations use PP.

  • It is estimated that 11 million meetings are held a day.

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

  • Achieve professional and personal goals.

  • Assume leadership roles in organizations.

  • Help organizations make their visions realities.

  • Comply with the law.

  • Disagree vigorously with others and remain cordial.

  • Promote our democratic heritage.

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.

  • National Association of Parliamentarians – NAP is the oldest and largest professional non-profit association of parliamentarians in the world. They teach, promote and disseminate PP. NAP uses Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised almost exclusively and offers an extensive array of education materials, independent study courses, a referral service and a network to local NAP units and state associations. NAP awards the Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP) credential to a select few who meet their standard.
  • American Institute of Parliamentarians – AIP ‘s mission is to foster, promote and teach PP. AIP has a roster of local contacts, educational programs and publishes the Parliamentary Journal and a newsletter, The Communicator, included with the membership. AIP awards the Certified Professional Parliamentarian (CPP) and Certified Professional Parliamentarian Teacher (CPP-T) credentials. AIP differs from NAP in that it teaches all three of the U.S. parliamentary authorities:

Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (

Alice Sturgis’s Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure

Demeter’s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure

  • Toastmasters International – TM clubs use PP to conduct the business portion of their meetings. Optional training is offered in Parliamentary Procedure In Action modules in five 15-minute sessions. TM also offers the Westminster Model for use in England, Australia and New Zealand that follow Renton’s Parliamentary Procedure. TM is a good place to start for basic PP training and learning to adapt PP for small community groups. TM combines speaking and leadership with PP skills.

  • The Consultant Approach is a popular option to expand knowledge, acquire skills and re-align attitudes. Independent consultants can customize training to individual needs. Periodic training events, even as simple as a guest speaker on a PP topic, keeps PP principles and philosophy alive. Search the Web for a consultant near you. Examples:

    • Jim Slaughter – Attorney, Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher, and Professional Registered Parliamentarian. Slaughter notes that ignoring or incorrectly applying PP can lead to lawsuits, yet no ABA-accredited school presently offers a for-credit class on PP. People expect lawyers (and by inference law librarians) to know about parliamentary procedure law. Read more in his article in the July 2000 ABA Journal, p. 70.

    • Nancy Sylvester – Sylvester is a Certified Professional Parliamentarian, and Professional Registered Parliamentarian with many honors and publications. She trains in PP, communication skills, team building, meeting facilitation and Board training, and can help people distinguish when to use PP and when to select an alternative group decision making process.

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.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Parlimentary Procedure