On May 20, 2017, District 4 will hold our biannual District Business Meeting at the Spring Conference. Club Officers from San Francisco to Palo Alto will have the opportunity to hear updates on District news and performance, and exercise their right to VOTE on club alignment and District leaders for the 2017-2018 term. This meeting is the most important event of our Toastmasters year. With the help of our District Parliamentarian Tony DeLeon, we’ll run an organized meeting where the majority rules and the minority has the right to be heard. To ensure that we stay on track and follow all protocols correctly, we’ll rely on Robert’s Rules of Order, the most popular parliamentary authority in the U.S.
You may have heard of Robert’s Rules before and wondered, like I did… Who is “Robert?”
Yes, “Robert” was a real person: Henry Martyn Robert, born in South Carolina in 1837. He spent the majority of his career as a military engineer (including time working in District 4 territory!), attaining the rank of General. Always in motion, Robert participated in community and professional organizations wherever his work led him.
During the Civil War, Robert was living in Massachusetts. One day he was asked to preside over a community church meeting to discuss defense strategies in case Confederate forces attacked the town. Although he didn’t know meeting protocol, he felt he couldn’t decline, and hoped for the best. But as congregants debated the hot-button topic, tempers flared and order broke down. The meeting spiraled out of control and reportedly ran for 14 hours!
This disaster spurred Robert to action. “My embarrassment was supreme,” he later wrote, and resolved that he would never attend another meeting… until he educated himself on parliamentary procedure. But in his attempts to research the subject, he soon found that there were no consistent standards for parliamentary law in the U.S. Undeterred, he decided to create his own manual that organizations could use to run effective and efficient meetings. Over the years, this manuscript grew from a slip of paper used for personal reference, to a 16-page pamphlet shared with community members, to a 176-page book he titled Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies.
Robert struggled to find a publisher, as those he approached were skeptical that his book would find an audience. Finally, S.C. Griggs and Company took a chance on Robert, but required that he personally pay to print and bind 4,000 copies of the manual, 1,000 of which would be given away free to educators and community leaders. The book was published in 1876, and the publisher added “Robert’s Rules of Order” to the front cover. Robert expected the remaining 3,000 copies would last two years.
They sold out in four months.
Clearly, Robert was far from alone in seeking guidance for public speaking and leadership. 141 years later, Robert’s Rules has sold over 5.5 million copies, is in its 11th edition and runs more than 700 pages.
I’ve met many members of Toastmasters who joined after an embarrassing public incident — or because they’re determined to avoid one! Like Robert, we see that temporary “failures” are opportunities to improve, and we provide a supportive space for members to build skills and confidence. We all need support to keep moving forward!
Today is Henry M. Robert’s 180th birthday. At our Business Meeting this month, we’ll remember and thank him for helping us facilitate a streamlined and well-organized meeting where the majority rules and the minority has the right to be heard!
Are you going to the District 4 Business Meeting May 20, 2017 at the Crowne Plaza Foster City? Register today! All clubs in good standing are entitled to two votes, carried by the President and VP-Education. For those who can’t make it, please delegate a proxy to represent your club! Your many voices make up our strong District 4 community!