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Robert's Rules in Real Life

How to become a parliamentarian

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

In recent weeks several of our faithful readers have asked how one becomes a parliamentarian.

We thought it might be helpful to lay out two approaches: the straight path of booklearning, and the broad path of practice. This article also includes suggested tools and resources.

The Straight Path of Booklearning

The way to become a Registered Parliamentarian is to know “the book,” namely, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition (Robert).

  1. Study Robert and learn the main points of content.
  2. Take and pass the entrance examination (100 questions) to become a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians (NAP).
  3. Take and pass the NAP examination to become a Registered Parliamentarian.

For those of you who enjoy studying and are willing to put in the time, this is the simplest way to become a parliamentarian. It takes some effort, since Robert is over 800 pages long, but many study aids are available. Mastery of this content will provide much satisfaction.

The Broad Path of Practice

The interesting aspect of being a parliamentarian, in our view, is how “the book” is applied in practice. For those who share curiosity and commitment to better meetings based on Robert, a somewhat broader approach will pay dividends in real life.

  1. Learn the basic principles of democratic meetings and parliamentary procedure.
  2. Master the key points of Robert’s Rules.
  3. Get practice in real meetings, both as parliamentarian and presider
  4. Keep a list of common misunderstandings.

Here are some ideas about each of these points:

Basic principles. The best summation of the basic principles that we know of is contained in our book, Mastering Council Meetings. We also refer to these principles often in our blog postings and other articles; if you read our newsletter regularly, you’ll be quite familiar with them.

Robert’s Rules. There are many resources available to master the technical knowledge contained in Robert. In addition to the treatment in our book, we recommend the “In Brief” book of Robert, published by the Robert’s Rules Association.

Practice. Here’s the sticking point! It’s not always easy to get the necessary experience. You may have to start as an observer, watching your city council meetings on television or attending a PTA board meeting. Both NAP and the American Institute of Parliamentarians offer the opportunity to practice through participating in their local groups. Their annual conferences are also great training opportunities.

Perhaps you belong to a nonprofit board, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, or a neighborhood group that would welcome your assistance as a parliamentarian. Get practice running meetings too – there’s nothing to equal the knowledge acquired in the driver’s seat.

Common misunderstandings. There are a handful of common ideas about procedure that are completely wrong. You will do yourself and the groups that you work with a favor by keeping a little list of these errors. Again, we write about them often in our newsletter and our blog. If you take up this study, you owe it to yourself and your groups to help them act correctly and effectively.

Tools and Resources

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition. Buy the spiral-bound paperback from NAP. It lies flat on the table and is much easier to mark, highlight, tab and work with.

Tabs for Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition – also from NAP. These will help you make your way through the massive tome.

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief, 2nd edition – short and readable. Note that this book cannot be adopted as a parliamentary authority in its own right; it is a signpost to the full Robert.

Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments – our book, available from Amazon. Mastering Board Meetings is in preparation.

Study Guide for Membership Examination – available free by download from NAP.

Vote-calculator card – a pocket-sized plastic card that allows you to declare accurately what number will make a majority or two-thirds for any size group up to 100 people, available from NAP.

A word of caution: there are many books out there labeled "Robert's Rules of Order" that are based on older, outdated editions. Be sure to get the real thing, the 11th edition, and don't be fooled by other variants.