Robert’s Rules Of Order

One of our newer members commented that the business sessions at First Oakville Toastmasters can be intimidating.

And they can be especially if you don’t understand a little about Robert’s Rules of Order and the reason why we use it to conduct our business.IMG_0164_large

Every new member gets a copy of Parliamentary Procedure At A Glance to help guide and encourage them to participate in the decision-making process. It’s also a life-saver for members who are assigned the role of parliamentarian for the first time.

We use Robert’s Rules which creates a structure whereby the majority get their way (after debate and voting) and the minority get their say (and may well convince the majority of the merit of their arguments).

Last week’s meeting offered an excellent example of this principal of how groups can work together using standard parliamentary procedure as outlined in Robert’s Rules.

During the new business session one of our members rose to move a motion.

That’s how all debate and decision-making gets started. Someone rises, at the appropriate time and is recognized by the chair and states their desire by saying “I rise to move that…”. (There’s a desired format to moving a motion which we’ll skip for now.)

Moving motions prior to debate helps save time and provides focus for the group.

For example, after a motion is moved the chairperson then asks if there is a seconder for the motion.

Now the chair is checking to see if anybody else thinks the motion on the floor is of any interest and if there is no seconder the motion is removed from the table and the meeting continues on.

At last week’s meeting the motion being proposed had nothing to do with Toastmasters (and in fact was about the upcoming national election) so it would have been appropriate for the chair to rule the motion out of order right away.

If the mover objected to this ruling their could appeal the decision of the chair which would have forced an immediate vote by the assembly on whether or not to support the chair’s decision.

Since the chair did not rule, I rose to “object to consideration”.

An objection to consideration does not need a seconder and is not debatable but forces an immediate vote (of which two-thirds of the voters must support the objection).

The vote, which was taken, was not clear and I called for “division” which requires the chair to take a formal recorded vote.

(Most chairs ask too often for the Sgt.-At-Arms to count the vote when a simple “Aye or Nay” vocal count would suffice especially when the outcome is pretty clear or predictable such as a motion to adjourn.)

Our new member rose and wanted to know more about the motion itself but was ruled “out of order” as the motion was no longer on the floor and thus not debatable.

This decision led to our new member suggesting to me after the meeting that the process was intimidating.

To someone who doesn’t understand the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order it is certainly understandable that they might find the process so but not to follow Robert’s Rules leads down a very dark path.

For example, I was a member (and a president) of another club (not Toastmasters) where Robert’s Rules wasn’t used to conduct business sessions. Arguments and verbal fights were the order of the day and many members stopped attending as these fractious sessions got out of hand on several occasions and people left with hurt feelings.

When, as president, I introduced Robert’s Rules the move met great resistance from both the troublemakers and many of the other members. People used to getting their way by intimidation and yelling were thwarted in their attempts to control the meetings once Robert’s Rules were introduced.

Some members objected to the formality that Robert’s Rules brings with it (and much of the formality can be reduces down to plain language so long as the principles remain in effect) but the fighting stopped and the bullies stopped getting their way.

Over time, several troublemakers quit and while the club still struggles, it’s meetings are much more congenial thanks to civility that is created when members work together to conduct the business of the club using this process.

So rather than finding our business sessions intimidating and perhaps more than a little frustrating for newcomers, a passing understanding of Robert’s Rules can help make the experience so much more enjoyable and productive.


  1. Motions germain to the club are moved and seconded, debated and voted upon by members in good standing (paid their dues);
  2. Motions may be amended twice only but the amendments must be of a secondary nature and not change the intent of the main motion;
  3. Members, recognized by the chair, may rise and state if they are speaking for or against the motion;
  4. Members should always use parliamentary language and never indulge in personal attacks or question another member’s motives;
  5. At any time a member can yell out “call the question” which merely means this member wants to vote. The chair can ignore these calls;
  6. During the business session any member can rise without being recognized by the chair to point out an error in the process;
  7. A new chair would be well advised to consult with their designated parliamentarian if in doubt. (This can also work as a tactic to calm a heated debate as only one member can stand and be recognized at one time. If the parliamentarian is standing, all other members except the chair must sit down. The parliamentarian only offers an opinion to the chair who then makes a ruling.);
  8. Robert’s Rules allows for a variety of other motions to close debate, to suspend the rules, to refer motions to committees and lots of other handy ways to move forward with the club’s business;
  9. Club elections are subject to Robert’s Rules;
  10. And, finally, the old saying still applies that a chair gets away with whatever a chair gets away with. (In other words, if nobody complains or challenges the chair, then whatever the chair decides is right becomes club policy. While subject to challenge at future meetings, it’s better to control an overly ambitious chair than be subject to their arbitrary and likely ill-conceived rulings.)

Here’s another link to The Toastmaster blog where I have posted another summary.


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