Strategies for Formal Discussions

While informal group discussions will probably be the norm in most group interactions you will participate in, there will be times when a bigger audience in a more formal setting with set times and structures become necessary. This puts more pressure on the speaker to articulate and defend a position thoughtfully and respectfully. For these times, it is important to be familiar with the conventions and strategies followed for specific interactions whether they are meetings, debates, or panel discussions.

Meetings are important for information-sharing and decision-making but they can be a big waste of time if there is no order in the way they are conducted. The number of people involved and the issues that meetings deal with require rules and a standard procedure so everyone can be heard and decisions made without confusion. This is why meetings use parliamentary procedure, which can be adapted depending on the needs of groups or organizations.

Parliamentary procedure usually follows a fixed order of business like the one below:

    1. Call to order — a signal that the meeting is about to begin
    2. Roll call of members present – an attendance sheet may be passed in place of this.
    3. Reading of minutes of last meeting — to save time, the minutes may be circulated beforehand for corrections, comments, and approval
    4. Officers’ or committee reports — as needed or if part of the agenda Special orders — important business previously designated for consideration at the meeting
    5. Unfinished business — a matter that needs to be decided on or resolved New business — issues that are up for discussion
    6. Announcements — reminders or matter that everyone needs to know Adjournment — formal closing of the meeting

Members express themselves by moving motions. A motion is a proposal that the entire membership takes a stand or action on. Individual members can:

    • Second motions — to approve a motion that has been moved
    • Debate motions — to give issues to be discussed or voted on
    • Vote on motions — to register approval or dissent on a motion

Presenting Motions

Obtaining the floor

  1. Wait until the last speaker has finished.
  2. Rise or raise your hand, and address the chairperson as “Mr./ Ms. Chairperson, or Mr./Ms. President.”
  3. Wait until the chairperson recognizes you. 

Making your motion

  1. Speak in a clear and concise manner.
  2. Always state a motion affirmatively. Say, “I move that we…”
  3. Avoid personalities, explain clearly, and stay on your subject.

Waiting for someone to second your motion

  1. Another member will second your motion or the chairperson will call for a second.
  2. If there is no second to your motion, it is lost.
  3. When the chairperson says, “it has been moved and seconded that we…” the motion is put before the membership for consideration and action. The membership then either debates the motion, or may move directly to a vote.
  4. Once your motion is presented to the membership by the chairperson it becomes “assembly property,” and you cannot change it without the consent of the members.

Expanding on your motion

  1. The time for you to speak in favor of your motion is at this point in time, rather than at the time you present it.
  2. The mover is always allowed to speak first.
  3. Keep to the time limit for speaking that has been established.
  4. The mover may speak again only after other speakers are finished, unless called upon by the chairperson.

Putting the question to the membership

  1. The chairperson asks, “Are you ready to vote on the question?”
  2. If there is no more discussion, a vote is taken.
  3. Alternatively, a motion to move the previous question may be adapted.
  4. Voting on a motion

How voting is done depends on the situation and the by-laws of policy of your organization. There are five methods used to vote by most organizations, they are:

  • By Voice — The chairperson asks those in favor to say, “aye,” those opposed to say “no.” Any member may move for an exact count.
  • By Roll Call — Each member answers “yes” or “no” as his name is called. This method is used when a record of each person’s vote is required.
  • By General Consent — When a motion is not likely to be opposed, the chairperson says, if there is no objection…” The membership shows agreement by their silence; however if one member says, “I object,” the item must be put to a vote.
  • By Division — This is ‘o verify a voice vote. It does not require a count unless the chairperson so desires. Members raise their hands or stand.
  • By Ballot — Members write their vote on a slip of paper; this method is used when secrecy is desired.

There are two other motions that are commonly used that relate to voting.

Motion to Table — This motion is often used in the attempt to “kill” a motion. The option is always present; however, to “take from the table,” for reconsideration by the membership.

Motion to Postpone Indefinitely — This is often used as parliamentary strategy and allows opponents of motions to test their strength without an actual vote being taken. Also, debate is once again open on the main motion.

Parliamentary procedure is the best way to get things done at your meetings. However, it will only work if used properly:

Allow motions that are in order.
Have members obtain the floor properly.
Speak clearly and concisely.
Obey the rules of debate.
Most importantly, be courteous.