Parliamentary procedure is an important skill set that anyone can use. It is used by most groups as they conduct their meetings. Congress, government entities, school boards, local boards, service organizations, and other committees all practice parliamentary procedure. Often, meetings can become very chaotic when making group decisions. Everyone talks at once, trying to sway others to a different point of view. A basic knowledge of parliamentary procedure can make the group decision process more orderly, and can make the meeting run smoother. Benefits of the use of proper parliamentary procedure include the ability to focus on one item at a time, decisions that recognize the majority while protecting the rights of the minority, equal opportunity for input among participants, and faster, more orderly meetings.
What Is Parliamentary Procedure?
Date and Time
Parliamentary procedure is an organized method for a group to accomplish their goals in an effective, fair, and efficient manner. It is effective by providing an orderly way to conduct the group's business and make decisions. It assures everyone gets to voice their opinion. Parliamentary procedure is a democratic process for making a decision. It is efficient in keeping the group focused. One item of business is disposed of before going on to the next. Parliamentary procedure is based on Robert's Rules of Order, which describe the procedures on how to conduct items of business.
Meetings are often the first exposure people have to parliamentary procedure. Volumes of material have been written on the fine points of parliamentary procedure, but only the basics are necessary for 90 percent of the business conducted at meetings. Start with the basics of parliamentary procedure presented in this fact sheet, then continue to learn.
Preparing for a Successful Meeting
Conducting a successful and efficient meeting takes preparation. It is important to plan the physical layout of the meeting space and have a consistent agenda. Agenda items such as committee reports should be obtained prior to the meeting and shared during the meeting prior to any unfinished (old) or new business. See the sample agenda.
Decisions are made and formalized most commonly through the use of main motions. A motion brings business before the group as a way to formally request action. Here are the steps to follow:
- Recognition by the president/chair. A member seeks permission to speak to initiate a motion by raising his/her hand or standing and saying, "Mister/Madam President ... ." When the president recognizes the member, that member has the floor and may speak.
- The motion. A member should say, "I move that ... ." It is not correct to say, "I make a motion that ... ."
- Second. The motion must receive a second before any discussion begins. A member does not need to be recognized to second a motion; instead, he or she just states, "I second the motion" or simply, "Second." Obtaining a second indicates that at least two people favor discussing the motion. If there is no second, the motion is dropped.
- Discussion. Once the motion has been moved and seconded, its qualities may be discussed. A member of the group must first be recognized by the president. The member gives to the group reasons for or against the motion.
- Vote. Discussion on a motion may end in three ways: (1) no one says anything; (2) a member says, "I call for the question," which means that the member wants the motion brought to a vote; or (3) the president decides that there has been adequate discussion. The president or secretary then restates the motion and calls for a vote. Some methods of voting include a voice vote ("aye" or "nay"), a show of hands, a roll call, a secret ballot, or standing. The president should always call for both sides of the vote, even if the vote appears to be unanimous. The president announces the result of the vote: "The motion passes/fails." A majority is needed to pass a motion. A majority is more than half of the members present and voting. It is best practice for all motions involving financial disbursement from the treasury to have a countable vote (raise hands, stand up, secret ballot) and to pass with a two-thirds majority. A two-thirds majority is more than two-thirds of the members present and voting.
Note: Commonly used motions include referring items to a committee, laying/removing discussion on the table, disbursement of funds, and adjournment.
There may be times when members of the group want to change the motion after it has been moved and seconded and is being discussed. This is called an amendment. It is recommended that only one amendment be permitted per motion. An amendment generally strikes out, adds, or substitutes words in the main motion. Here is how to amend a motion:
- A group member is recognized by the president to speak, then says, "I move to amend the motion by ... ."
- A second to this amendment is required.
- Discussion follows only on the amendment, not the original motion.
- When it is time to vote, the president conducts a vote to determine if the amendment passes. A majority is needed.
- If the amendment passes, discussion follows on the motion as amended.
- After discussion, a vote is taken on the original motion as amended. A majority is needed.
- If the amendment did not pass, discussion on the original motion continues.
- After discussion, a vote is taken on the motion. A majority vote is needed.
Tip: For a less formal meeting, it may be best to introduce complicated ideas by discussion before the motion is made. This eliminates the need for most amendments.
Referring to a Committee
During discussion of a motion, it may become evident that more information is needed or that there are details that must be worked out before voting. In these cases, the motion may be referred to a committee. It is not proper just to say, "I move to refer the motion to a committee." The motion to refer to a committee should include the name of a standing committee or how many committee members and how they are to be selected. The motion should also include when the committee is to report back; if they have the power to act; and if the club must vote on their recommendations. Giving a committee the power to act means the committee makes the final decision without the club voting; this method should be used sparingly.
- During discussion of a motion, a member is recognized by the president and says, "I move to refer the motion (repeat the motion) to a committee of ... ."
- A second is required.
- Discussion follows only on referring to the committee, not the original motion.
- When it is time to vote, the president conducts a vote to determine if the motion is referred to a committee as specified in the motion. A majority is needed.
- If the motion to refer to a committee passes, the president then sets up the committee as specified in the motion.
- If the motion to refer to a committee does not pass, discussion on the original motion continues.
Tip: Generally, a committee meets and reports back at the next regular meeting. Another motion and vote is required to accept/reject the committee's recommendations.
A Note About Electronic Meetings
In a world of increasing technology, some organizations prefer to conduct business at electronic meetings (by phone or Internet). As long as everyone has equitable access and opportunity to attend and doing so is authorized in the bylaws, the group may hold this type of alternative meeting.
Lay on the Table or Take from the Table
There may be a time when a decision on a motion may need to be delayed. Perhaps there is not enough information to make a decision. The procedure to do this is called "laying on the table," which delays a decision until another time.
- During discussion of a motion, a member is recognized by the president and says, "I move to lay the motion on the table."
- Once again, a second is required.
- There is no discussion permitted. The group proceeds directly to vote whether to table the motion or not. A majority is needed.
- To bring back the motion so it can be discussed and acted upon is called "taking from the table." While in old business, a member says, "I move to take from the table (motion's name)."
- A second is required.
- There is no discussion permitted. The group proceeds to vote whether to bring the motion from the table or not. A majority is needed. Once a motion has been brought back from the table, it is the next item of business.
Tip: Generally, a tabled motion comes back for consideration at the next regular meeting. Don't use the motion to table as a way to "kill" a motion.
Adjournment is the term used to end a meeting.
- To adjourn a meeting, a member is recognized by the president and says, "I move that we adjourn."
- Once again a second is required.
- There is no discussion permitted. The group proceeds to vote whether to end the meeting or not. A majority is needed.
Note: A motion to adjourn can be given at any time during a meeting, but it should not be misused by club members to adjourn prematurely when there is important business yet to be addressed.
Parliamentary Procedure: Online Resources
Robert, Henry M. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: De Capo Press.
Robert, Henry M. (1970). Robert's Rules of Order. Newly revised. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.
This fact sheet, originally published in 1999, was originally titled "Parliamentary Procedure" and was written by Thomas M. Archer, Doug Dill, and Eva M. Weber, all of 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension.