How to Run a Large Meeting with Robert’s Rules

You’re running a large meeting – maybe with your entire company or organization. You have some big decisions to make, and you want everyone to be a part of those decisions.

But as you open up the discussion, you worry that things are getting out of hand – there is too much to cover and not everyone knows why they are there. The next thing you know, you’ve gone way over the time allotted, people are frustrated because they didn’t get the chance to share their thoughts and you haven’t managed to come to an agreement about anything yet.

This sort of stressful situation is what made Henry M. Robert create a universal set of rules for parliamentary procedure, better known as Robert’s Rules of Order, in the late 1800s. Today, groups from small clubs to large civic organizations use Robert’s Rules to maintain order, ensure all voices are heard, compile opinions and tally votes in meetings. But these rules are also helpful in business; with a few adaptations, you can put them to use in the meetings you lead. 

“Today, groups from small clubs to large civic organizations use Robert’s Rules to maintain order.”

Whether you have official membership or are just persons serving on a corporate committee together, here’s a quick (but by no means definitive) guide to help you get started and run a smooth meeting.

A Mini Guide to Robert’s Rules of Order

An agenda is set before the meeting and distributed to participants – eliminating ambiguity.

  • One of the best things a leader can do is send an agenda ahead of time so attendees can prepare to discuss their opinions on each topic before voting.
  • During the meeting, the person in charge (aka the chair) can bring up a topic based on the agenda that was circulated, or an attendee can make a motion to discuss something new.

An attendee makes a motion – following rules set in place in advance.

  • A member (or, in our case, committee attendee) proposes to do something (anything from accepting the minutes of the last meeting to taking a vote) by “making a motion.”
  • Another attendee must second the motion.
  • The chair must speak the motion out loud for everyone to hear.
  • If needed, the chair can call for a motion to keep things moving along or indicate that it’s time for a vote.  

The chair opens the floor to talk about the motion – proving that all voices can be heard.

  • A person must be recognized by the chair before they’re allowed to speak, usually by standing up and asking for the chance to do so. 
  • Everyone has the right to speak, but only for a limited time (such as two minutes) unless otherwise agreed upon by general assent. (This is something you can agree upon before meeting to help the rules be known.)
  • No one should interrupt the person who has the floor; you must wait until the speaker has finished before standing up and requesting the floor next.
  • Everyone who wishes to speak gets a turn before a person speaks a second time.  

The chair puts the motion to a vote – allowing for agreement on next steps.

  • Voting can be done by ballot or a verbal yes or no.
  • Typically a 51 percent majority rules, but certain issues, such as changing existing rules or depriving someone of membership or office, require a two-thirds majority – if you’re a voting member.
  • The chair then announces the results of the vote, and all motions, votes and results are captured by a secretary who provides an official record and distributes the notes.

Curious about how you can keep meetings running smoothly? Get the full Robert’s Rules of Order.

The full book offers much more detail, and even sample dialogues to help you keep your meetings on track.

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