On Being a Delegate
Table of Contents
Congratulations! You have been selected to be the official delegate to the upcoming annual meeting or convention. This is an ideal opportunity for you to network with other delegates, receive current information about your organization's new projects, and to travel. Before you leave for this meeting, it is important to know what role you as a delegate will have. Generally delegates can be voting participants or spectators.
Voting delegates are participants who represent their organization's viewpoint or their own individual wishes. Be sure to know which role is expected of you at this meeting. Do your homework. Preview any literature or resolutions that are sent to you. You should understand the issues or policies that you will be voting on. It is important to be a credible representative. You should have logical reasons for your views.
If you are selected to represent a group's viewpoint, then know how your fellow members wish you to vote. You must vote according to the majority ruling, you are their spokesperson and representative.
Sometimes voting delegates may attend meetings to express their own individual opinions. Be willing to listen to the discussion. You should have the knowledge and confidence to support your view, then vote as you, the individual, see fit.
Voting delegates who belong to formally organized provincial bodies may receive credential forms with their conference pre-registration. These credentials are used to verify your eligibility as a voting delegate during the conference. Make sure that all necessary paperwork is submitted on time.
Spectator delegates are observers. These delegates may be representing their organization, or attending as interested individuals. Spectators usually attend meetings, conventions or seminars to learn about new projects, to be updated on current issues, participate in discussions and meet with others who share similar interests. In most cases spectator delegates do not vote during the business sessions.
Often both voting and spectator delegates are asked to prepare a report or summary for their local organization. All delegates should take reasonable subject notes. You will need some background information and details for your formal report. Jot down the important points from the meeting as they occur. Be sure to collect any handouts in order to jog your memory when preparing your report. These handouts should be made available to relevant individuals or committees upon your return.
The number of sponsored delegates chosen to attend an event will depend on your organization's budget. Most organizations will allocate funds for convention and meeting expenses in the annual budget. All sponsored delegates should know how much financial support is available. Never assume that all travel and incidental expenses will be automatically paid for.
Responsible delegates should shop for the best possible travel rates. Advance booking for travel reservations and accommodation will save money. Usually receipts for travel and meals are needed by the organization in order for the delegate to claim expenses. Follow your organization's guidelines or check the policy manual for proper reimbursement schedules.
All delegates should know the subject or theme, purpose, participation requirements and structure of the upcoming convention. It is important that voting delegates prepare themselves to be credible and informed representatives from their local organization.
Delegate preparations begin by reading and reviewing any background or position papers and resolutions. Discuss all issues with your local executive and membership. Be sure to know how the majority wishes you to vote. Gather any information or documentation that you will need to strengthen your group's point of view. Familiarize yourself with this stand.
Check with members to see if there are any recommendations for changes to any of the proposed resolutions. Note these suggestions and discuss them. Be prepared to voice these suggestions at the conference. Consider the topics of debate or panel discussions. Prepare a list of questions or points that you would like to have clarified. Make clear and concise notes about the replies. You will be expected to report about these issues when you return home.
Conferences also provide an excellent opportunity to network. This is your chance to meet the key people in your organization. Set a personal goal to meet these people. Remember to re-establish familiar contacts too.
Careful planning is the key to success for any delegate. Review your convention itinerary. Once you have decided which activities you will be involved in, select appropriate clothing. Squash courts, business meetings and banquets require suitable clothes. Try to co-ordinate mix and match separates rather than packing and carrying several individual outfits or suits. Pack your money, important personal and business documents, traveller's cheques, medication and essential toiletries in a carry-on bag, your pockets or a briefcase. Checked baggage can be lost. It is inconvenient to be without essential items.
Leave a copy of your travel itinerary and the telephone number of your hotel with your spouse or family. They may need to contact you in the event of an emergency.
Conferences can be overwhelming as you adjust to new people, new issues and a new location. As a first time delegate, remember that you will be among people with similar interests as your own. You all belong to the same organization.
When you arrive at the conference site, look for signs to direct you to your group's registration desk. After you have registered, get ready to enjoy the meeting. Pre-conference socializing is important. It is your opportunity to network. Mingle and introduce yourself. Look for any key members or speakers whom you wish to meet. Greet your friends too. This is an ideal time to exchange viewpoints. Ask others about current issues and concerns in their part of the province. It may be the time to solicit support for a new idea or motion. Remember, contacts made today may be valuable resources in the future.
If a delegate name tag is provided, wear it. Pin your name tag on your right side, below your shoulder. When you extend your hand to shake hands, your eye will automatically focus on the name as you meet the person's glance. Both women and men should exchange a firm handshake when being introduced to someone.
All delegates should be punctual for their meetings. Late arrivals create a poor impression by wasting time and interrupting the speakers. Help keep the meeting on schedule by arriving on time.
All delegates should practise good listening skills. Both spectators and participants will learn more from a meeting by listening. You cannot be a good listener if you are talking. Pay attention to the speaker, listen for ideas and opinions. Concentrate on what is being said. Although we speak only 100 - 150 words per minute, we are capable of thinking six times as fast. Don't let your mind race ahead, wander or prejudge. Delegates should be receptive to new ideas and hear them before judging their merits. Sit where you can hear the person speaking. It may be necessary to remove or correct distractions like excess noise. Remember, the best way to get other people to listen to you is to listen to them.
At large gatherings, delegates may need to use a microphone system during the question period. Try to speak clearly into the mike while breathing quietly and calmly. The best voice projection is achieved by positioning the mike at chin level approximately three to eight inches from your body. Use short, clear points to send your message. Watch for microphone cords and wires to prevent accidents.
Common courtesy and good etiquette will help a delegate through any social or professional situation. The old golden rule "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" has never gone out of style. Everyone is important enough to receive respect and courtesy.
Make the most of your delegate opportunities. Whether you represent your group or yourself, conferences foster personal growth. You can learn more about current issues, gain new insights and meet new friends. Increase the impact of your conference by sharing your ideas and resources with your local organization.
Prepare a written report about the conference highlights. Summarize the objectives, key points and resolutions. Outline the answers you received about your group's questions. Tell them how new plans will affect them. Perhaps you can outline a few suggestions that may be suitable for your local organization to try.
Ask your local president or chairperson to schedule time at the next meeting for you to deliver your report. If post- conference action is necessary, suggest ways and means of doing the new work. Let the executive decide if any special action committees are needed. Above all, remember to share your enthusiasm and support for someone else to attend next year's conference.
If you follow these basic guidelines, your experience as a delegate will be both rewarding and successful.
The Community Guide Motivation Series, Factsheet #6 Listen. The University of Arizona, Co-operative Extension Service.
The Organized Executive: New Ways to Manage Time, Paper and People. Winston, Stephanie. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 1983.
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