I was pleasantly surprised how intriguing this book was to me. The contents are common sense, but as I’ve seen elsewhere, common sense is not so common anymore. Finally, a piece of literature that instructs its readers how to increase efficiency and productivity at meetings. Who knew such a thing was possible?
I previously had no idea how parliamentary procedure works; it was even better than I had originally anticipated. I was particularly intrigued by both chapter 17 (An Introduction to Electronic Parliamentary Procedure) and chapter 19 (The Conference Call). For instance, Zimmerman says that a detailed agenda should be sent to all members ahead of time. The meeting should be opened with a roll call (by having each member answer, thereby proving that they are all connected), respect given for time limits on debate, and that the call itself needs to be taken in a quiet location.
I can’t say how many times on a VoIP conference call people would talk over each other, fail to correct feedback being reverberated through their speakers when someone else was talking, or worse, the fact that there was no structure to the meeting at all. In such a chaotic environment, only a few people dominate the meeting (with the more timid being completely silent and just listening). Having attended as well as having run conference call meetings, I can completely empathize with General Robert when he was asked to preside at a meeting that he didn’t know how to run, saying, “My embarrassment is supreme. I plunged in, trusting that the Assembly would behave itself. But with the plunge went the determination that I would never attend another meeting until I knew something of …… parliamentary law.”
It really does illustrate just how paltry most activist group “meetings” are run (that is, when they rarely get away from playing keyboard warriors on the Internet and hold local meetings in person). I’ve seen the Boy Scouts conduct actual meetings; while it is true they do it sans parliamentary procedure, they always had a written agenda and there was always structure at their weekly troop meetings, which proceeded fairly smoothly (unless the occasional new guy just started learning the basics of leadership). If a bunch of adolescents can perform an action fairly well, then the adults should be able to do at least as much, if not more so (preferably with some level of finesse).
My only real point of consternation with parliamentary procedure is that you can get easily mired in the 20,000 overly detailed minutiae of how to do one thing. That is, of course, if you go by Robert’s Rules of Order – Newly Revised, which is invaluable provided there was ever a technical question that couldn’t be answered by Zimmerman’s work. I recommend both, since they each serve a different purpose; the vernacular version is the “carry in your pocket, bring it with you to meetings” guide, while the other serves as a reference to answer more procedurally specific inquiries.
What I really appreciate about parliamentary procedure is that it was also specifically designed to mitigate infighting. What a concept for activists! It really does put Occupy Wall Street’s finger wagging thing in its place, and rightly so.