Please Hum Now, Romans & 6 Other Internet Founding Protocol Meeting Tips

Heard of the IETF? Me neither. Until I came across their meeting method of reaching what they describe as “rough consensus”.

This erstwhile “loosely self-organized group” seems quite crucial to life as we know it. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was founded in 1986 by volunteers. Its express aim today seems being “the principal body engaged in the development of new Internet standard specifications”.

They have a fascinating approach to agenda point mechanics.

Their participation explainer has terrific documented ‘rules’ in a section entitled, “4.2 Getting Things Done in a Working Group”.

Numerous pointers contained within can be readily applied to video meetings during and around selling endeavours.


Consensus reached in a meeting can only be ratified with approval of all those on the overall mailing list not in attendance at that time.

Sometimes it is not possible to have everyone around a table. Even with dial-in presence. Have you scope for the rubber stamp of someone absent though providing ahead of time an accepted “apology”? Or would that be tantamount to opening the door to prolonged procrastination?


Meetings are not “drafting sessions”, as “drafting is done elsewhere”.

I’m a big fan of pre-proposals and activity surrounding them. Many structured ways of navigation exist. The “non-paper” route being just one on which I’ve blogged before.

Making a meeting one of ratification-only can speed up decision-making (as well as quickly uncovering showstoppers).


Disputed topics require “rough consensus”; “meaning that a very large majority of those who care must agree”. This phrasing is powerful.

It is the tactic of a skilled Meeting Chair. I have blogged before on this type of thinking. The Luxembourg Accord being one such formulisation of it.

The crucial emphasis being that only those invested get to vote. Not those who don’t really “care”. Hopefully meaning you don’t get scuppered by ego-ridden political posturing. As its alternative label of Luxembourg Compromise suggests, those without involvement are expected to step aside.


The “hum” is perhaps their most distinctive tool. Here’s their precise description;

Sometimes consensus is determined by “humming” — if you agree with a proposal, you hum when prompted by the chair. Most “hum” questions come in two parts: you hum to the first part if you agree with the proposal, or you hum to the second part if you disagree with the proposal. Newcomers find it quite peculiar, but it works. It is up to the chair to decide when the Working Group has reached rough consensus.

Apparently in-person, the ability to see how vociferously individuals respond is also highly revealing.

Appreciation stems from helping to “get a sense of the room” too.

I note discourse lamenting how this fails to transmit onto video meetings. Efforts to create a virtual hum continue. Yet perhaps there is an alternative for us over video.

I think about the classic voting demands in Roman amphitheatres. The earliest version of reality tv competition, albeit scarily deadly.

As seen in the 2001 Oscar winning movie Gladiator, you first hold your hands palm down, fingers outstretched, slightly trembling. Then when given the go-ahead, clench your fist without a thumb, and move to the now near-universal thumbs up or thumbs down posture.

There is scope to adapt this for the screen. The ferocity shown by those who produce a thumb can also gauge volume. From lackadaisical to vigorous display. And as is usual in the case of video proceedings, the mere act of physical movement brings energy to both the room and participants.


When it comes to ratifying a document, there is a procedure known as Last Call. Intended to iron-out any final issues, it has the feel of an auctioneer’s pre-gavel bang bid-closing; ‘going once…’ There can be more than one ‘last call’. Or there may not be at all, at the Chair’s discretion. Yet it does seem a neat natural way to signal the wrapping of things.


Each meeting has a ‘secretary’. With option to maintain an “issue tracker”. This kind of recording is essential for many a sales meeting. In-person, conference phone call or video get-together (and hybrid). I rarely see it done though. You cannot now – maybe not for a long while off either – rely on the post-call output of your chosen video platform to do this for you. To tailor to your needs is to be one step ahead.


Forums that never seem to get anywhere suffer from what they term “degenerative Working Group syndrome”. Whilst there doesn’t appear to be a ‘meeting hospital’ solution for them, they do appear to hold dear a barometer of success. Namely the winding up a working group when it ‘fulfils its charter’. Suggesting a group ought have a clear determination and be happy to cease gathering when that is achieved. Something we could happily adopt for sure. Helping guard against “messy results”. Especially as it enables tacit agreement by our prospect as to where we’re headed.

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