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Guest speaker debate


Guest Senator Rick
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I am part of a large organization that is divided into multiple silos, and am an elected member of the "senate" of my particular silo.  Our senate is charged to "communicate our opinion" to other groups, and "to advise and inform [other groups] on all matters pertaining to [our] professional expertise and [our] rights and obligations."  Debate within the body is always respectful and controlled, but often we have guest presentations from representatives of the other silos on their current and recent policies that affect us in various ways.  Occasionally in the past, and increasingly now, the questions asked are pointed, the speakers get defensive, and debate is unruly, lengthy, and unproductive.  I'd like to get a handle on this within the rules, but I don't really see the place.  Everything I can find covers internal debate, but in this case, there are no motions or questions before the body, we're essentially arguing with another body, or a representative thereof.

Is there a mechanism I'm missing to get control of this debate, or is this just not the kind of thing the rules covers?  My apologies if this is a dumb question.

-r

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The chair should not allow attacks to a person, but only allow attacks on the idea, or the proposal.

"Ad hominem" attacks are not allowed under Robert's Rules.

If the chair is slow to pick up on such an attack, any member can raise a valid Point of Order, calling attention to the language, or to the attitude.

***

If what you have is unruly, then it appears that you have 5-15 people who are sitting on their hands, when they should be on their feet, shouting, "Point of Order!"

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Thank you for your responses.  I gave the wrong impression that people were being outrageous or attacking individuals.  By unruly I meant that people ask a long series of follow-up questions that usually get bogged down in minutiae.  They also often start with simple information questions, but devolve into suggestions disguised as questions, "How about X, did you consider that?", and then to persuasion disguised as questions, "Here are a bunch of reasons this idea is wrong, did you consider them?"  This is when it starts to resemble an argument.

At the same time, the interaction with these guests is the primary mechanism we have to communicate, advise, and inform, so we would hate to relinquish that.  If we just thanked the speaker, we could pass motions after they left, but we would also be missing some key information.  I guess I want to preserve this 'questioning the witness' style interaction, but with some controls.  How do we say, "you've asked enough questions Alice, give someone else a go"?

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They're certainly not the first to disguise debate in the form of a question, but as long as they ask it in the form of a question and decorum is maintained, I think it's fine, generally.  I'm not aware of any limit to the number of questions a member can ask when he has been assigned the floor before moving on to the next member but the assembly can adopt a special rule of order to deal with the matter.  Such as, limiting a member who has been assigned the floor to one or two questions and not permitting them to ask any more until everyone else gets a chance to ask questions.  The assembly could also adopt a rule limiting the total time for questions after a presentation.  

If I have this wrong someone will be by to make my mind right. :) 

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The chair should read the Rules of Decorum at the beginning of the meeting:

 

1.  Speakers (except for officers/committee chairs reporting) must address their remarks to the Chair, maintain a courteous tone, and avoid injecting a personal note into debate or attacking others’ motives.

2.  Officers and committee chairs should come to the front left, front right, or front center to present their reports and address the body.

3.  Speakers should refer to officers only by title and should avoid the mention of other members’ names as much as possible.

4.  Speakers’ remarks must be germane to the question before the assembly and should not be about a prior action not pending.

5.  Members are to stand when wishing to speak and when speaking, otherwise they are to sit.

6.  Members are to refrain from disturbing the assembly by whispering to one another, walking out, etc.

 

 

 

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Guest Who's Coming to Dinner
On 3/7/2017 at 1:49 PM, Guest Senator Rick said:

Is there a mechanism I'm missing to get control of this debate, or is this just not the kind of thing the rules covers?  My apologies if this is a dumb question.

Yes. Learn the lesson of parliaments past and require that a concrete motion be placed before the meeting. You're not having a debate — you're having a free-for-all.

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52 minutes ago, Guest Who's Coming to Dinner said:

Yes. Learn the lesson of parliaments past and require that a concrete motion be placed before the meeting. You're not having a debate — you're having a free-for-all.

But remember that this is a guest speaker situation, not a business meeting. There is no motion pending, nor will there be.

In all the professional society meetings I've attended, speakers have a set time for their presentation, followed by a shorter, set time for questions from the audience. These sessions have moderators who keep the question and answer period moving along, making sure that different questioners are recognized.  Perhaps an established time limit for discussion after the presentation, with a chair who sees to it that no one person gets to monopolize the discussion, will improve your situation.

And if you really want to gain more insight from your speaker than time (or a discussion 'hog') allows, the time-honored approach of "Let's continue this discussion afterwards" (or "separately") usually works very well.

 

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