Robert’s Rules of Order (also known as RONR or Robert’s Rules) are a set of guidelines from Henry Martyn Robert’s book. Originally published in 1876, it has since faced 12 editions with revisions based on feedback and cultural changes over the decades. The latest edition was published in September 2020: Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.
“When there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.”— Henry M. Robert
If you’re new to the rules and ready to implement them in your first meeting, we’ve put together this Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet to help you along the way.
And, if you’re trying them out for the first time at a new organisation, consider giving a copy of this to everyone. That way, everyone will be on the same page about what to expect!
The meeting structure according to RONR is dictated by an agenda. An agenda is a list of items to be discussed in chronological order (from beginning to end). One of the fundamentals of Robert’s Rules is to appoint a chairperson or presiding officer to lead the meeting and to keep everyone on the agenda. This makes sure all points are raised and keeps it a productive meeting. Creating an agenda also protects a new item from being added once the meeting has begun and helps maintain the flow of the meeting.
The agenda (and therefore, the meeting structure) encompasses the following:
1. Call to order
This is the point where the meeting begins. Whoever is the appointed chair of the meeting will open the session.
2. Roll call
The roll call is a simple way of checking attendance: who is there, and who isn’t. Generally, the appointed secretary does this as part of their role. The secretary also takes notes throughout the meeting and attendance is part of these notes.
3. Reading and approval of minutes
At this point, the minutes from the previous session are confirmed. Ideally, everyone will have a chance to look at these prior to the meeting to save valuable time going over them during this session. If there’s anything that’s been missed or needs updating, this gets raised at this point. Once corrected, the minutes can be approved.
Discussion before the meeting helps save a lot of time during the meeting. One of the ways to facilitate it is to use board portal software that lets you share the agenda and other important documents with the meeting attendees, allowing them to comment and collaborate.
4. Reports of officers
This is the point where the appointed officers or a leadership team such as board members share their notes, recommendations and motions. As part of their roles, they will also share their tasks, what has been done since the last meeting and any outstanding work to do.
If motions are raised at this point, they must be seconded. For example, a motion could be “I move that we hold a fundraiser in June”. For this motion to be considered, a second attendee must say “I second that motion”. All motions must be seconded to move forward.
5. Reports of committees
If a group or a board (or a representative of either) is in attendance, now is the point where they can use the same process. However, unlike reports of officers, reports of committees don’t need to be seconded. This is because they reflect the recommendations of a group of people, rather than an individual.
6. Standard order of business
This is usually the bulk of the meeting. It is the time to cover any other reports, unfinished business from the previous meeting, action items and more.
At this stage, members can raise any updates or announcements that everyone else needs to be aware of. If it’s not a regularly scheduled meeting, you can also plan a date for your next meet-up.
Finally, this is the wrap-up point where the chair closes the meeting.
Types of motions
Above, we briefly touched on motions. Motions are a formal proposal put forward to the group, and they form many of the action items of meetings. For any suggestions to move forward, motions must be raised and then voted on. In a vote, the majority rule (or a two-thirds vote) wins, and that dictates whether or not the motion is passed.
Under Robert’s Rules, there are certain ways of phrasing things to ask for what you need. Below are 8 common motions that you might need in your next meeting including instructions on how to use them. Don’t forget when you’re addressing the chairman to address them as “Mister Chairman” or “Madame Chairman” as appropriate.
|What you want to do||When you might use it||What to say||Second needed?|
|Take a break||You need to take a short break before returning - not to be used if you want to end debate entirely||“I move to recess [for X minutes]”||Yes|
|Enforce the agenda||When someone is going on a tangent or talking about things unrelated to the main motion at hand||“I call for the orders of the day”||No|
|Enforce the rules||When someone is disobeying the rules — speaking out of turn, speaking over the length of time, resorting to personal insults or another breach of rules||“Point of order”||No|
|End the meeting||It’s time to end the meeting or it has overrun due to debate||“I move to adjourn”||Yes|
|Request for information||You would like additional information on the main motion or subsidiary motion(s) at hand before voting or debating further||“Point of information”||No|
|Amend a motion||When a motion is on the table, but you want to add detail or change something about it before it goes to a vote. Note: you cannot reject a motion doing this||“I move that this motion be amended by…”||Yes|
|Ask a question||A motion to ask a question||“Point of inquiry”||No|
|Ask for the conditions to be changed||It’s too loud, too hot, too cold or uncomfortable||“Point of personal privilege”||No - it’s a privileged motion and, therefore, a form of non-debatable statement|
How to handle a motion: An example
As a chairperson or presiding officer, one of your main jobs is to handle motions properly. As per the fundamental principles of Robert’s Rules, your role is to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak, and everyone gets the chance to vote.
The following guidelines will help you handle a motion fairly and with equality in mind:
- One of the attendees is recognised, the member rises and makes a motion.
- The motion is seconded: Note that the motion has to be seconded to move forward.
- If in order, the chair then restates the motion and opens the debate.
- The debate is conducted: the maker of the motion has the right to debate the motion first. Then, everyone must adhere to the debate rules set. These include:
- A limit on time per speaker
- A rule that means no one can speak a second time until everyone has spoken
- Nobody can speak until they are recognised by the chair and have ‘obtained’ the floor
- No personal attacks or personal remarks
- Once the debate has been completed and no one else claims the floor, the chairperson will ask “Are you ready for the question?”. If no one rises to debate, then the vote can be called.
- The chair restates the motion in question and clarifies the yes/no responses.
- The vote can be conducted by asking “All in favour” and “All opposed”, “Yaes and Naes” or asking the attendees to stand to vote.
- The vote is tallied and announced by the chair. The chair needs to provide clarification at this point on what the vote means, and what the next steps are, for example, the adoption of the motion.
- Once the member has risen, addressed the chair and has been recognised by the chair. “I move that we organise a fundraising event in June to pay for a new CT scanner.”
- Another member seconds the motion. They don’t need to be recognised for this. “I second the motion.”
- The chair says: “It is moved and seconded that the organisation will organise a fundraising event in June to pay for a new CT scanner. Is there any further debate?” (Or, if past this point or no debate is required, the chair can ask “Are you ready for the question?”)
- The chair then recognises those who want to debate and maintains order throughout including adherence to the debate rules from all who take part.
- Once everyone who wants to has spoken, the chair asks “Are you ready for the question?”
- The chair restates the motion: “The question is on the motion to organise a fundraising event in June to pay for a new CT scanner.”
- Chair: “Those in favour of the motion say “aye”, those opposed say “no”.
- Chair counts the vote and the motion carries: “The ‘ayes’ (or affirmative votes) have it, and the motion is adopted. We will organise a fundraising event in June to pay for a new CT scanner.” Or the motion fails, “The ‘naes’ (or negative votes) have it, and the motion has not passed. Therefore, we will not organise a fundraising event in June to pay for a new CT scanner.”
Meeting script example
For presiding officers or chairpersons, one of the best things you can do is to plan ahead with an agenda and a short script. Using Robert’s Rules, here is a script to follow while moving through the different parts of the :
Call to order
[On the allotted time for the meeting to begin]
“The meeting will come to order.”
Reading and approval of minutes
[Generally, these will be distributed in advance to give members the chance to read before the meeting.]
“The secretary’s draft of the minutes from the last meeting on 03/07/2021 was sent to you on 08/07/2021. Are there any corrections to the minutes as distributed?”
[Pause and wait for corrections. Take them until there are no further corrections and no additional points.]
“If there are no (further) corrections, the minutes stand approved as distributed (corrected).”
“The next order of business is office reports.”
Reports of officers
President’s report: “You all have a copy of my report, so we will review some highlights and move on.”
“The next order of business is officer reports.”
[President to acknowledge the other officers one by one, and for each member to run through their report and any actions as a result of their reports. For example, a financial audit. It’s the chair’s decision in which order the officers will go. As any motions come up, follow the script above for getting these voted on.]
“The next order of business is reports from our committees”
Reports of committees
“The chair recognises __ for the membership committee report”
[Continue to use the script outlined above for any motions raised during this time]
“Thank you __. The next order of business is __”
Standard order of business
[Here, the chairperson will ask for any new business and address anything else outstanding on the agenda.]
“Is there another important matter or unfinished business to come before the meeting?”
[Note: this is not the time to present a new idea, and it’s improper procedure to do so.]
“Are there any announcements to be made before the meeting?”
[It’s a good idea at this point to plan the time, date and meeting point for the next meeting.]
“Our next meeting is due on Friday 5th of November. Shall we meet at 2 pm on that date? Hearing no objection, our next meeting will take place on Friday 5th November at 2 pm here at the conference room.”
“There being no further business to come before the board, this meeting is adjourned.”
Tips for chairpersons
We’ve put together the following tips to consider as a chairperson:
- Plan your meeting and agenda ahead of time and have the secretary distribute as much information as possible to members before the meeting begins.
- Use unanimous consent where appropriate to save time on motions when there’s an obvious agreement or a large consensus.
- Remember to remain impartial throughout.
- Remember your duties: It’s your role to keep everyone on the agenda, for everyone to be heard and to ensure all processes are carried out fairly.
- Stay in your lectern. Sharing with the other members or speakers will make it difficult for you to preside, address or call for order.
We’ve put together some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and reminders when it comes to Robert’s Rules of Order or RONR.
Do you need a motion to approve minutes?
Yes. However, this doesn’t mean everyone needs to vote. The chairperson can obtain unanimous consent immediately if no one has any comments or amendments, or after corrections are made.
What do you say when making a motion?
To make a motion, you must say “I move…”. For example, “I move that we reallocate 20% of funding from the sales department budget to operations”.
Are Robert’s Rules of Order legally binding?
No. They’re not legally binding. However, some organisations may adopt them in their by-laws. If they do, then the rules are binding (but not legally so).
Overall, using this Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet should help you get well on your way to successfully conduct your first meeting. As long as you remember to lead with integrity, fairness, equality and respect — and encourage members to do the same — you can’t go far wrong with Robert’s Rules.