Monthly Archives: October 2017

“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?” II

Are you new to chairing very formal or semi-formal meetings?   This article will give you the basics on agendas, reports, motions, debates and decisions – it is the second of a three-part series.

In our previous first-time-chairing article, we laid out the formal or semi-formal nature of meetings, and what that means (Topic One), as well as setting out what it means that the Chair is in charge (Topic Two) – check it out here

We also identified Topic Three – the five basics of an efficient meeting:

  • an agenda,
  • reports,
  • proposals,
  • discussion, and
  • decisions.

Those 5 cover pretty much everything, and they’re the subject of this article.

We’re going to cover Topic Four (points of order and machinery issues/motions) and Topic Five (rulings) in the third and final article in the series, next week.

The Agenda

… is the list of things to be discussed – it should reflect what’s important.

If there’s no agenda, make it the first meaty bit of business you deal with: ask the meeting “what does this meeting need to deal with?” and once you’ve got a few suggestions you can ask “which are the ones we should deal with first?”  If there is an agenda, and you don’t like it, you can ask the meeting if there are any additions or changes proposed to the agenda.  If there’s no agenda at meeting after meeting, that’s a big flashing billboard saying, “These meetings are inefficient – the Chair and Secretary must together provide agendas for future meetings”.

If anyone tries to raise issues not covered by the agenda, you need to be alert to the interests of those who couldn’t get there: if the issue is contentious or impacts on those missing, you might want to say, “We shouldn’t be making a decision about this since missing members didn’t get notice of it and it is important they have their say – can we refer this item to the next meeting for decision, so everyone knows it is coming up?”

There is nearly always a decision (or several decisions) made at each and every every agenda item – for example, to note a report.  A good Chair will encourage a decision at each item, if no-one in the meeting initiates a proposal


… provide information to guide the meeting on decisions they might need to make.

They are usually flagged in the agenda e.g. “Item 6(a) … Report from the Finance Committee” and there should normally be someone there to talk about it.  One big meeting destroyer is over-long reports, usually under-prepared.  When you call on someone to deliver a report (By saying “We’re up to the Finance Committee report on the agenda – who will deliver this report?”) you can also say something like “We’ve got a lot of business to get through – can you speak for 5 minutes and we will have time for questions afterwards?”

Good reports include proposals to the meeting, arising from the report.  Poor reports don’t have any concrete outcomes and sometimes do no more than provide information.


… usually called motions, proposals are about action – a motion without an action component should be immediately suspect – if there is no action why bother?

Almost every agenda item should result in a proposal and if something happens in the meeting and no-one moves a motion in consequence, the Chair should initiate a proposal by asking a question: “Would anyone like to move that we adopt the recommendation?” or “What should we do about this report?  Does anyone want to propose anything?” or similar.

As Chair, you can ask for motions to be redrafted for clarity or to add missing bits, but you would normally only do so if the meeting seemed to need it – you should always ask for motions to be written down if they are more than a single, short sentence, to make it easier for a proper record of decisions to be kept, and to make sure there is no ambiguity in what is being proposed.  Every motion requires someone to propose it – the “mover” and someone additional to support it – the “seconder”.

Once someone moves a motion and exercises their right to speak, the Chair then always asks for a seconder and names them.  Motions without a seconder present at the meeting don’t get discussed any further – if the mover’s speech hasn’t won over a seconder, it means they motion has little support, so the meeting shouldn’t spend time on it.

Once motions have been moved, seconded and debated, they must be put to the vote – see “decisions” below.

Controversial or important motions normally appear on the meeting notice and agenda, so people with an interest in the issue can make sure to attend.

The Discussion

… is supposed to help the meeting understand enough about an issue to make an informed decision.  Discussion is often the biggest destroyer of effective meetings, because so many participants don’t understand discussion should happen in only three circumstances:

  • a question and answer after a report;
  • debating whether to accept, reject or amend the motion; and
  • the meeting decides to suspend the rule (suspend standing orders) to have a free-for-all discussion.

For informal meetings you or the meeting may choose to relax some of those rules, but if you do then let people know you’ll go back to more formal rules if things bog down or go in circles or degenerate.

Many participants don’t understand they only get to speak once, never get to speak over others (except when making a point of order or procedural motion – see below) go way off-topic, or would talk forever.  When people are doing any of these things, you must pull them up.  If the meeting might run over time, you can suggest, or ask the meeting to impose time limits on speakers, thus: “We’re in danger of going over time, so I suggest we limit speakers to five minutes only – is everyone OK with that or should I put the time limit to a vote?” or similar.

Most times, discussion involves debating a motion.  All standing orders have important things to say about the rules of debating, and these are very common requirements:

  • Mover and seconder get to speak first, then you must invite speakers against the motion;
  • If there is no opposition, go straight to a decision;
  • If anyone wants to speak against, up to two speakers against go next;
  • After the first two speakers against, it’s one speaker for, followed by one against, and repeat;
  • As soon as one “side” or the other runs out of speakers, the mover always gets a right of reply to what’s been said in debate; and
  • After the “right of reply” speech, no-one else gets to speak, and you must get the meeting to make a decision.


… are the whole point of a meeting; they are supposed to be well-informed, and about things which are clear – it’s the Chair’s job to make sure of that, and it’s why most motions should be written down, and why we have discussion.  Meetings often decide these sort of things:

  • to admit new members,
  • to accept the minutes of a previous meeting as being true and accurate,
  • to accept inward correspondence and endorse outward correspondence,
  • to reject a recommendation to increase Board sitting fees, and
  • to set the date and time for the Annual General Meeting.

All decisions happen through the Chair asking the meeting to vote.  The Chair says, “all those in favour say ‘aye’”, calls out how many have voted yes, then says “all those against say ‘nay’” and calls out how many have voted no.  Sometimes the Chair might need to ask, “are there any abstentions” and calls out the number of abstentions, when issues have been controversial.  The Chair always announces the result this way: “I declare the motion lost [or carried]”.  So many inexperienced Chairs forget to call for those against and declare it carried or lost!

If you are lucky, your standing orders set out a way to resolve tied votes.  Usually, a tied vote is declared lost.  Sometimes, the Chair has what’s called a casting vote, to be exercised only when a motion is tied, as a way to break the deadlock.  In this case, depending on your standing orders, the Chair gets a second vote.  Some rules say that the Chair can’t vote on anything at all except to use a casting vote.  You need to know which way your standing orders go!

All decisions must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting, similarly to this example below, although you usually don’t need to record numbers for and against:

Moved: Mike Smith/Seconded: Stephen Robertson

That the Treasurer’s report be received, and that the proposed budget for next financial year be approved.

Lost with 3 for, 4 against, and 3 abstentions.



In the next and final first-time chairing article, we’ll cover Topics Four and Five: points of order and machinery issues/motions, and rulings.  That’ll be out next week.

Please offer any thoughts you’ve got, about what needs to be added or changed!





Queensland State Election 2017 Basics

The Queensland State Election was called on Sunday 29 October, and Election Day will be Saturday 25 November 2017.

Here are three reasons it’s historic:

  • it is the last time the Government gets to pick the Election Day – after this one, Queensland moves to a fixed, four-year election term;
  • it is the first time preferences will be compulsory since 1992, when they were made optional*; and
  • the number of seats has been increased from 89 to 93, which means to win Government a party or coalition needs 47 or more seats.

New or updated enrolments close on 3 November, and nominations of candidates close on 7 November.  If you need to update your enrolment the best place to do it is via the links on this page:

Because the number of seats has increased, electoral boundaries have been changed all over the place.  Here’s a table of changes driven by new boundaries, from psephologist Antony Green

Green’s analysis of the political impact is here, and his new electoral pendulum is here

You can access his overall guide to the election here

… and here’s a link to the latest polling,_2017#Opinion_polling.



* Corrected – thanks to Cameron Milliner for noticing the error!


“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?”

It’s terrifying the first time, but much easier if you are on top of the basics.

If you’re on any kind of committee, or in a political party branch, it will happen sooner or later: you’ll be taken by surprise when the Chair is away, or quits, and someone says, “Can you chair the meeting, please?”

The basics can be covered in just five topics!

First*, these are formal or semi-formal meetings, not social chats, with a purpose to it – usually, reaching informed agreement on something – and the Chair is responsible for ensuring that objective is reached.

Somewhere, there’s a set of meeting rules, maybe called “standing orders” which tell you how you run the meeting to get to the objective.  If don’t know of any such thing, ask; if there’s no rules offered up then make sure you have a read through a set of reasonably complete standing orders or meeting rules (e.g. this sample which sets out most of the basic rules.

Second, understand the Chair is in charge, but is bound by the rules and any lawful decisions made by the organisation.  You might need to insist on your role being recognised: e.g. no-one talking over you, and if someone disagrees with a decision you make they don’t get to just stand up and say, “you’re wrong” they must understand only the meeting can overturn your decision.  The downside is this: as Chair you need to be careful about what you say (“rulings” are addressed in a later article) so as not to interfere with informed decision-making, and you shouldn’t actively participate in debate on proposals.

Third, understand the five components of an efficient meeting: an agenda, reports, proposals, discussion, decisions.  Those 5 cover pretty much everything.

We’re going to cover each of those five components of Topic Three in our second first-time-chairing article, next week, and we’re going to cover Topic Four (points of order and machinery issues/motions) and Topic Five (rulings) in the third and final article in the series.

Please offer any thoughts you’ve got, about what needs to be added or changed!


* As a result of some feedback, we’ve amended this a little!




Why Conduct a Training Needs Analysis?

We recently proposed a quick survey of new Board members, before constructing a training session for the new, probably quite inexperienced Board.  The client wanted to know why we should bother, and it forced us to think about it.  This article is OK but isn’t concise enough for some discussions, so we put together this list.

You should always conduct a training needs analysis because:

  1. Writing it down helps make sure everyone is talking about the same thing, when they are talking about training content and what’s needed;
  2. It helps measure the skills gap, rather than making a brave presumption or estimate of it;
  3. You might find a greater depth of knowledge than expected on some topics, and thus you can skip some things and focus on others, which means your training session is more focused and more valuable;
  4. You might discover a lower level of knowledge than expected on some topics, so the training needs to be recalibrated to a lower level of skill/knowledge;
  5. You might discover some of your participants have sufficient depth of skill in some areas to be able to mentor others, or assist in training;
  6. You might discover some participants have special needs, or discover unexpected diversity or uniformity amongst participants, or an age or gender profile which suggests particular training methods;
  7. It earns buy-in from participants if you’re asking for their input;
  8. If participants understand the training reflects their needs as well as the needs of the organisation, they are more likely to participate properly and come back for more;
  9. It makes it more likely participants will see they are getting the training they want and need, rather than only in areas decided by others;
  10. It gets participants ready for the training session and makes them think about what they want to get out of it;
  11. It alerts participants to the fact that there’s change afoot – the training is going to move participants away from their business as usual behaviour;
  12. It makes it much easier to determine the desired outcomes of training if you understand the underlying skills base, the skills gap, and what it is that participants expect and want;
  13. It makes it easier to determine how much training is needed – half a day, two days, three weeks, somewhere in between; and
  14. Training is expensive – trainer fees, and the time participants spend in training, both need to be spent on filling the gap between skills held and skills wanted – and you can’t be sure you’re spending well unless you’ve made an effort to measure that gap.

Not all of those reasons will apply to every organisation, of course!

With such free/inexpensive tools as, it can be quick and painless to get good information.