Presiding Over a Meeting
Following parliamentary procedures to conduct meetings ensures that everyone is heard and that consensus is reached when making decisions. This resource can by used by policy groups and governing bodies as a quick reference to understanding the process of presiding over meetings.
Before the meeting, the president and secretary should prepare a detailed meeting agenda, listing all known items of business that need to come up. Officers and committee chairmen should be asked in advance if they will have a report to present, and only those who do should be listed on the detailed agenda and called upon at the meeting. Are there minutes to approve for more than one meeting? List oldest minutes first for approval. Are there any special orders, including bylaws-required actions for this meeting (e.g., electing nominating or audit committee, election of officers, annual reports)? Is there any unfinished business, business that was introduced at the preceding meeting that was not disposed of (e.g., postponed to this meeting, scheduled for but not considered at preceding meeting, pending when the meeting adjourned)? Have members submitted previous notices for motions they intend to make?
The president and secretary may need to prepare and distribute a call to the meeting, including any required notices. For example:
The president may also wish to prepare, or have prepared (perhaps by a parliamentarian), a chair's script for the meeting based on the detailed agenda.
The president may need to prepare to make an officer's report, or report for the executive board, or designate the vice-president to make these reports.
The president may need to ensure that someone brings to the meeting any needed supplies and materials, such as a gavel and block, flag, ballot materials (e.g., paper slips, pens, box), bylaws and special rules of order, parliamentary authority, calendar, agenda or other handouts, and audio visual equipment.
At the meeting the president may want a head table to preside from, with the Secretary adjacent on one side and (if one is appointed) the Parliamentarian on the other. If ballot votes are reasonably likely, the President should pre-arrange with appropriate volunteers who he will appoint as tellers, and if time-consuming debate is anticipated, he should have a time-keeper ready and equipped to be appointed for that task.
A presider may need to prepare by reviewing the procedure for handling a motion:
- A member obtains the floor and makes a motion.
- The chair evaluates if it is in order, and if so, asks, "Is there a second?" Another member "seconds" it.
- The chair states the motion for all to hear, "It is moved and seconded that ____. Are you ready for the question?" (TSC: "It has been moved and seconded.... Is there any discussion?")
- Members debate and may make secondary motions (e.g., amend, refer it to a committee, postpone until next meeting). The motion maker may speak first. Debate alternates between pro and con if possible. No one speaks second time when another seeks to speak first time. When no one seeks to speak, the chair says, "If there is no (further) discussion (pause), debate is closed."
- The chair puts the question to a vote: "The question is on the adoption of the motion to ________. All in favor say aye. (pause) All opposed say no. (pause)"
- The chair announces the vote results: "The ayes have it; the motion is adopted; and ______ (order to do what the motion says)" or "The noes have it and the motion is lost."
Only one main motion is considered at a time, so if one motion is pending, and another main motion is made during debate, the chair says, "The motion is not in order at this time, since only one main motion can be considered at a time. The member may wish to make the motion again when no other motion is pending."
Amendments can be proposed but must be germane (on the same subject). A motion "to buy a photocopier" can be amended to add "not to exceed $___", or to insert "Xerox" before "photocopier" or to strike "photocopier" and insert "printer/fax/copier/scanner unit" since these are all germane, but it would not be germane to amend to add "and lawnmower" (an unrelated issue). The chair would rule that "the proposed amendment is not in order because it is not germane to the pending motion." A primary amendment can be amended (with a secondary amendment), but a secondary amendment can't be amended (it gets too confusing); instead, a motion to create a blank with unlimited choices may be made.
Some secondary motions have an order of precedence, so if a lower ranking motion is made while a higher ranking motion is pending, the chair says, "That motion is not in order at this time, because the pending motion to ___ is a higher ranking motion." The chronological order for ranking motions is (per RONR ):
- Main motion
- Postpone indefinitely (in other words, kill the motion without a direct vote on it)
- Refer it to a committee
- Postpone to a specific time
- Change debate limits
- "Previous question" (close debate and amendment)
- Lay on the table
- Call for the orders of the day (the order of business to be followed)
- Raise a question of privilege
- Fix the time to which to adjourn (set the time for a continuation of this same meeting)
The chair can ask the assembly to "stand at ease" when the chair needs to briefly consult with the parliamentarian, secretary, or check the bylaws or parliamentary authority.
The chair should not vote except by ballot, or if the vote would change the results. If a counted vote is 5 for and 5 against, the chair could announce, "with the chair also voting for the motion, there are 6 for and 5 against, the motion is adopted, and...." If the count is 8 for and 7 against, the chair could announce, "with the chair also voting against the motion, there are 8 for and 8 against, and the motion is lost."
The chair should have a handy copy of the adopted parliamentary authority and bylaws, and possibly "motion charts " for the PA showing rankings, which need to be seconded, which need a 2/3 vote, etc. Jim Slaughter has some excellent online motion charts for RONR and TSC.
Finally, the chair needs humility, and a willingness to admit mistakes. "The chair stands corrected," or "the point is well taken," should be ready responses when needed. The president can also take, or have others take, notes on mistakes made, to practice on them before the next meeting.
With practice, patience and preparation, the President can preside with poise!
Presiding Over a Meeting. McClintock, Paul. paulmcclintock.com. n.d. English. Website.
Last Reviewed: October 2012
Last Updated: August 27, 2014
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- Frequently Asked Questions about Robert’s Rules of Order
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- Introduction to Robert’s Rules of Order
- Members Guide to Making Motions
- Parliamentary Procedures Glossary
- Presiding Over a Meeting
- Program Governance: Glossary of Documents and Reports
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