Picture this: You’re sitting in a meeting where an important topic is being discussed, and just as your mind is starting to wander back to your Wordle conundrum from that morning, you hear someone say, “Mr. Chairman, I have a Point of Information!” I’m guessing that you may have heard those words more than once in business meetings. The real question is whether you’ve heard them used properly per Robert’s Rules of Order. My experience says, probably not, so here are some quick “pointers” on Point of Information.
Point 1: A “Point of Information” is actually a request for information.
The phrase “Point of Information” is the lingo commonly used. But the lingo frequently leads to confusion because Robert’s Rules has defined a Point of Information as really just “a request directed to the chair, or through the chair to another officer or member, for information relevant to the business at hand but not related to parliamentary procedure.” In other words, a Point of Information is a question about facts related to the topic being discussed.
Let’s look at an example. If the motion on the floor relates to a large real estate expenditure, you might wonder how much money the organization has in its property budget. Knowing that information certainly would help you cast your vote knowledgably.
But let’s say the motion presented simply says, “That we purchase the Amazing Property on Well-Known Road for $100,000.” If you need a key piece of information to understand how to cast your vote—the amount currently in the property budget—you can ask for it by telling the Chair, “I have a Point of Information” and then asking that question. The phrase means, “I want to ask for some information so I can make an intelligent decision.”
And here’s some happy news for those of you who are thinking right now—“Can’t we use a more sensible term for this?” Recognizing that the phrase “Point of Information” could be confusing as to its purpose, the authors of Robert’s Rules changed the term to “Request for Information” in the 11th edition of the book! But since “Point of Information” seems to be here to stay for a lot of folks, it pays to know that either way—whether a member says “Point of Information” or “Request for Information”—what she’s saying is, “I have a substantive question about the topic on the floor.”
Point 2: A “Point of Information” should never be a bunch of facts that a member wants to share.
More often than not, when a member says, “Mr. Chairman, I have a Point of Information,” what follows is a stream of factual content that the member thinks the whole group needs to know. And I am here to tell you that the stream of factual content is decidedly not a Point of Information. It’s just debate in its purest form. If you say the phrase “Point of Information,” this means, by definition, that you have a question, not a set of facts to communicate to the members.
The reason that this clarification is so important is because a member who has a true Point of Information can interrupt another speaker if his question requires immediate attention—i.e., if it’s needed for members to make a well-informed decision on the motion being presented. And even if the question isn’t urgent enough to interrupt, he can still go to the front of the discussion line to speak ahead of others who have been waiting.
But you can see how this can lead to unfair interrupting privilege if the term is used incorrectly. If the member is simply seeking to pass along info that he thinks is important to the group, this cutting-in-line business isn’t okay. The I-have-info-to-share person needs to wait in line to be recognized for debate. Allowing interruption only makes sense if the member actually has a question that will inform his capacity to participate knowledgably in the decision-making of the group.
Point 3: The proper way to deal with Point-of-Information misuse is to ask, “What is your question?”
The next time you’re in a meeting and someone says, “Mr. Chairman, I have a Point of Information,” listen closely to the words the member says immediately after he is recognized. If the words that come next are a question, then probably all is well. But if the words that come next sound like a show-and-tell share time, you should graciously say, “Point of Order, Mr. Chairman: What is the member’s question?”