Robert’s Rules of Order

By: Tiara Simmons Mercius

Roberts Rules of Order, also known as parliamentary procedures, tends to elicit lots of eye rolls and heavy sighs. It’s both tedious and useful at the same time.

What is Robert’s Rules of Order (or Robert’s Rules)?

It’s a way to conduct meetings and maintain order.  It’s used in governments, boards of director meetings, even local chapter meetings.  It makes sure that those who want have a chance to speak and be heard can do so.  Once you get a hang of it, Robert’s Rules isn’t that bad.

Robert’s Rules of Order is a way to proceed through a meeting, a series of motions, voting on motions and closing meetings. Keep in mind, though, Robert’s Rules of Order is not required to be used by a non-profit or other entity, in fact, Robert’s Rules aren’t even legally binding (unless the organization officially adopts them.)

How is a meeting conducted?

Generally, all meetings follow a specific format. A sample agenda/order of business is available in the supplemental documents

First thing first, what is it comprised of?

There are 6 main motions you will use in almost every meeting:

New Item Motion (or a Main Motion): Use this to introduce a new item for the agenda that was not previously included.
Subsidiary Motion: Use this BEFORE voting on the main motion. This tells you HOW to handle a New Item Motion
Privileged Motion: Use this when there is something extremely important or urgent to discuss, but it was not related to the business of the meeting.
Motion to Table: Use this motion to “kill” a motion or to “table” a topic (i.e. discuss later)
Incidental Motion: Use this when there are procedural questions about other motions. This must be considered before the motion in question.
Motion to Postpone: Use this to delay voting, either on a singular issue or in entirely.

So, now you know the important motions.

How do you present the motions?

You can’t just shout out your desire to “make a motion”.  First, you have to “have the floor”.  This means it is your turn to speak. This happens when the presiding officer recognizes you. Raise your hand or stand up to signal you’d like to be recognize.

Once you have the floor, you are entitled to speak twice on each motion for 10 minutes each. So each person in attendance can have the floor for up to 20 minutes per motion.  You may only speak for the second time (on that motion) after everyone else who wants to speak has a chance to do so. 

The chair or presiding officer will track the time.  When they signal that your 10 minutes is up, you must wrap up.  You may be able to extend your time by request, or by consent of the remaining members and the chair.  You may yield your time if you have covered all your points and have time remaining.  This extra time goes to “the floor”.  It does not get transferred to another attendee.

During the course of the meeting, you may need to make a motion and/or vote on different items.  How do you bring a motion and vote?

  1. Motion: A member rises or raises a hand to signal the chairperson.
  2. Second: Another member seconds the motion.
  3. Restate motion: The chairperson restates the motion.
  4. Debate: The members debate the motion if it is debatable.
  5. Vote: The chairperson restates the motion, and then first asks for affirmative votes, and then negative votes and any abstentions.
  6. Announce the vote: The chairperson announces the result of the vote and any instructions.

The Robert’s Rules Cheat Sheet provides an extended list of motions and explains how they are presented and voted on. You can download it from the Additional Documents section on the right.