Meeting Tip--Medicine for Meandering Meetings


Many meetings meander with irrelevant debate on motions, discussion before motions are pending, or a presiding officer not knowing what business will come up next.  The chair can interrupt a member speaking in debate if the speech is not germane (relevant), or, after the speech, can remind members to keep their debate germane.  If the chair does not do this, any member can say, "Point of order. Is this germane to the pending motion?"  -- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.371-372.


Sometimes members discuss an issue before a motion has been made, often in response to an officer's or committee's report.  The chair can remind the assembly that a motion needs to be made before debate occurs (p.373), or a member could move to refer the issue to a committee to consider it and report back with a recommendation (p.161).


To properly prepare for a meeting the chair or secretary should ask each officer and committee chairman if they have a report to make and what recommendations or motions they will make.  The chair should prepare a detailed agenda at least for personal use, listing each item of business known in advance (p.342).  The chair only calls for reports from those who have them to give (p.344), and does not announce classes of business such as unfinished business if there is none (but "new business" is always announced).  Use "MRS SUN" to recall the standard order of business: Minutes read and approved; Reports of officers and standing committees; Special committees' reports; Special orders; Unfinished business and general orders; New business (p.342).


Meeting Myth


Myth: Discussion is never allowed on an issue before a motion is pending.


Fact: In general, "Until a matter has been brought before the assembly in the form of a motion proposing a specific action, it cannot be debated" (Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, p.373).  But, in a board or committee meeting where there are not more than about a dozen members present, "informal discussion of a subject is permitted while no motion is pending" (p.470), and even larger assemblies may specifically authorize "that a particular subject be discussed while no motion is pending" (p.33).  This practice also "may assist a member in framing a proper motion" (p.383).



Free Workshop in West Seattle:  "Practical Parliamentary Procedure" -- Saturday: March 25 (Elections and Voting), 2006, 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. -- Details at


This Meeting Tip and Meeting Myth are based on the cited references; the rules, bylaws and/or statutes governing your organization may supersede the rules described above. This Tip and Myth are written by Paul McClintock and are presented as a public service by the Point of Order Parliamentary Law Unit, which meets monthly on the 4th Saturday in Seattle, Washington.  Website:  Email:
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Copyright 2006 Paul E. McClintock,