Robert's Rules of Order Refresher for Formal Meetings

Robert's Rules of OrderWhile meetings in the US and Canada tend to be informal, in some countries formal meetings are still the order of the day. Familiarity with Robert's Rules of Order, which dates back to 1876,  is important for event planners who work internationally and also for those who serve on boards and work for associations and corporations which use formal, parliamentary procedure for annual meetings. Here are some basics.


Robert''s rules of order has several benefits that include:

  • keeping meetings on track
  • help members stay on topic
  • ensuring that all important agenda items are covered
  • a clear process for decision-making
  • a clear record of all decisions and action items

The Basics

  1. Attendees must receive official and ample notice about meetings as specified in the organization's by-laws.
  2. An agenda is prepared and distributed in advance.
  3. The chairperson officially calls the meeting to order.
  4. Minutes are taken for each meeting to record what has taken place.
  5. There must be quorum so that the attendees can make decisions.
  6. Meeting agendas follow a specific format:

    Order of Business
    • Review the agenda and determine if there are items to be added, deleted or re-sequenced.
    • Review minutes from the last meeting and give members an opportunity to correct them. There is a formal vote to approve them.
    • Old business is reviewed.
    • Sub-committee chairs present reports.
    • New business is handled.
    • Formal announcements are made.
    • The date for the next meeting is set.
    • There is a motion to adjourn the meeting.
  7. The meeting is conducted in an orderly manner.
  8. One person speaks at a time and individuals must be recognized by the chairperson before they speak or ask a question.
  9. In order for an item to be considered for a vote, a motion must be made and another attendee must second it.
  10. The chairperson re-states the motion and provides 5 minutes to discuss it. Motions are sometimes amended informally or by motions to amend before they are put to a vote.
  11. The results of each vote are announced and recorded in the minutes (i.e. votes in favour, votes opposed, abstentions)
  12. Minutes are distributed after each meeting.

Even for informal meetings, many aspects of Robert's Rules represent best practices for effective meetings. For example, if there is a lot of cross-talk during meetings, #7 & #8 would be helpful. Here are some other tips for the interventions that chairpersons can use to dealing with other challenging meeting situations.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Never beat people up with Robert Rules of Order. They are intended to be a tool to make meetings more effective.
  • Don't use your position as the chair to cut discussion short or intimidate members into doing things your way.


Here are more best practices that work equally well for formal and informal meetings:  Setting Realistic Meeting Agendas and Timeframes Business Meetings 411: Keeping Agendas on Track, and  5 Tips for Taking Meeting Minutes.

Photo Credit: Bruce Reyes-Chow

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