Are you familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order?

Every Toastmaster should be familiar with  Robert’s Rules of Order

Adapted for Toastmasters from an article by Kevin Graham

As a Toastmaster, you regularly attend club meetings and likely you participate in many other public gatherings. Robert’s Rules of Order has been the default standard for well over 100 years and most assemblies prescribe to Robert’s Rules of Order and its fundamental principles to get things done in an efficient manner.

Fundamental principles of Robert’s Rules of Order

  • Justice and courtesy for all
  • Do only one thing at a time
  • The majority rules
  • The minority has a right to be heard

General Henry M. Robert (related to the founder of the National Speakers Association, Cavett Robert), United States Army, grew frustrated by ineffective meetings and in 1876 sought to standardize procedures based on his vast experience in working with assemblies. Typically, Robert’s Rules of Order, often simply called RONR, apply to assemblies where proper record keeping is required.

Meetings can be ineffective for many reasons such as the following:

  • Chairperson is not skilled in meeting management
  • People are always arriving late.
  • Attendees repeating what has already been said
  • Tangents that are not productive to the business at hand
  • Click’ish arrangements of people
  • Ideas being railroaded without much discussion or counter points
  • Only one person who knows Roberts Rules of Order

We must know the following terminology:

Bylaws – standard rules governing an organization’s internal affairs

Constitution – an organization’s fundamental governing principles

Minutes – a record of what was done at a meeting, not what was said

Motion – formal proposal that an action be taken

Presiding officer – meeting leader who sees that rules are observed

Quorum – minimum number of members required to transact business

Standing rules – details concerning administration of organization

The Presiding Officer has exactly the same privileges as other members, makes motions, can speak in debate and can vote on all questions.

However, typically in larger groups, the chair refrains from many of these activities and performs as a neutral party, overseeing the process. In those larger groups, the chair typically requests motions and votes only if a vote is by ballot, or if his or her vote will affect the result (Ie, the majority vote is a tie, then the chair’s vote in the affirmative would cause the motion to prevail, or if YES is one vote over NO, Chair creates tie by voting in the negative, thus causing the motion to fail, and if a a two-thirds vote is required, the chair may vote to cause, block, or make attainment of the two-thirds.

Steps in handing a main motion include:

  1. Member makes a motion
  2. Another member seconds the motion – without recognition, possibly nor agreement
  3. Chair places motion before group – perhaps making minor word changes while being careful not to alter the motion’s substance
  4. Motion is open for debate (usually the maker of the motion is recognized to speak first and no one should speak a second time until everyone wishes to speak has spoken)
  5. Motion is put to a vote (if voice vote not clear, show of hands, “division of the assembly”
  6. Presiding officer announces result – and by number if counted

There should be only one main motion on the table at any one time. In addition to main motions, there are subsidiary, privileged and incidental motions.

Subsidiary Motions

1. Postpone indefinitely – group avoids direct vote on main motion

2. Amend – wording of another motion is modified (most widely used)

3. Refer to committee – send to another group for study

4. Postpone to a certain time – consider something later, due to a key person is not in attendance, crucial information will be known soon or a review of information should be required.

5. Limit or extend limits of debate

6. Previous question – stop debate on pending motion and vote (heard enough; repetitive)

7. Lay on table – put aside a pending motion (maybe the mayor or a senior executive is briefly visiting the group)

Privileged Motions – do not relate to the pending business; matters of immediate importance

1. Call for Orders of the Day – stick to the agenda

2. Raise a question of privilege – can’t hear, speak up

3. Recess – take a break

4. Adjourn – a basic principle of parliamentary law is that no assembly should be required to continue in session when a majority of members would prefer not to remain in session

5. Fix time to adjourn

Note: Set the next meeting if not already scheduled

Most Frequently Used Incidental Motions – apply to method of transacting business rather than to substance

1. Point of order – calling for a ruling and enforcement of the regular rules

2. Appeal – appeal decision of the Chair

3. Point of information – what’s the balance in the checking account

4. Suspension of rules – someone covering something deep in the agenda must leave early

5. Objection to consideration of question

6. Division of question – separate items such as time AND location

7. Consideration by paragraph – separation of lengthy items

8. Division of assembly – show a count

Always try to:

• Build toward a team environment

• Focus on fact, not fault

• Remove the personal aspect whenever possible

Toastmasters that are effective leaders have a workable understanding of parliamentary procedures. Hopefully this overview provided insight and understanding around basic meeting protocols to make club meetings and other assemblies more productive.


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