Parliamentary Procedure Basics

How to Get Help with Your Robert’s Rules QuestionsSo, you have questions about Robert’s Rules or parliamentary procedure. Well, the solution for every one of those queries is…. ask a parliamentarian.

Definitions for 500, Alex. A parliamentarian is a person who is obsessed (in a good way, of course!) with parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the term for the rules that groups must follow to conduct proper business meetings. And as far as resources or rule books go, Robert’s Rules is just the title of the most popular collection of parliamentary procedure rules, but there are others.

Now, for a roadmap—telling you how to find a parliamentarian and get answers.

Step One: Decide What Type of Parliamentarian You Need.

The first step to getting help with Robert’s Rules or answers to parliamentary procedure questions is to determine what type of parliamentarian you need. As with any field, not everyone who calls himself a “parliamentarian” has the same level of expertise. Here’s a quick guide to understanding different types of parliamentarians.

  • Lay Parliamentarian – This person knows more parliamentary procedure than the average man on the street but has no credentials in the field. This is often someone who was exposed to parliamentary procedure early in life (perhaps through Future Business Leaders of America or Future Farmers of America) or someone who has spent enough time in organizational leadership to gain basic knowledge.

Feel free to ask questions to lay parliamentarians because often they know a great deal. But just be careful: Ask them for page references to Robert’s Rules as backup. There’s a lot of confusion out there about parliamentary procedure, and you want to be sure you get it right. Keep going back to the rule book.

  • Member Parliamentarian – This person is a lay parliamentarian who also happens to be a member of your organization. Often this person voluntarily serves as the group’s parliamentarian, which is wonderful. Just follow the advice above to make sure you’re getting accurate information and know when to consult a parliamentarian with credentials and more experience.
  • Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.

Generally, there are four possible credentials:

Consulting a credentialed parliamentarian means you’re talking to someone who has spent significant time learning parliamentary procedure rules and has taken an examination on some of them. A credentialed parliamentarian should be able to point you in the right direction, if not answer your questions conclusively.

Not all parliamentarian credentials are the same, however. Each requires varying levels of knowledge and experience. Before you “stake your life” on a credentialed parliamentarian’s answer, and definitely before you hire one, learn what his or her credentials mean and ask about the amount and type of experience that he or she has.

  • Lawyer + Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has a law degree, has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure, and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.

Sometimes lawyers make good lay parliamentarians because they have experience counseling organizations on governance issues and have attended numerous business meetings. But a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian brings a greater depth of knowledge and experience to an organization’s parliamentary procedure questions and needs. Similarly, a credentialed parliamentarian who is a lawyer brings the ability to provide legal advice in addition to parliamentary procedure guidance, which is a valuable pairing given that the two fields intersect easily and often.

Step Two: Look for a Parliamentarian in Your Organization or Online.

Once you’ve determined the type of parliamentarian you need, there are several ways to find that person. If you need a lay parliamentarian, ask around among the members of your organization to see if anyone has knowledge and experience that they would be willing to provide on a volunteer basis.

And if you need a credentialed parliamentarian or a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian, start with a simple online search, or contact the National Association of Parliamentarians or American Institute of Parliamentarians. Both organizations can give you contact information for individuals who are certified.


5 Blog Posts to Help Remake Your Meetings in 2019No one will blame you if “learn more parliamentary procedure” isn’t on your list of 2019 resolutions. But let’s hope “have more productive meetings” made the cut. If it did, here are five posts that will get you started.

Four Things Most People Get Wrong about Abstentions

To count or not to count the non-voters – this is the question. Find out what to do when members decline to vote.

Four Myths about Robert’s Rules and Quorum – And Why the Truth Matters

Why should you care about how many people attend a meeting? Learn the fine points of quorum and how it affects action-taking for your group.

5 Essential Facts about Closing Debate

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to shorten your meetings, then check out this post on how to properly say, “Let’s stop talking and vote already.”

Easy Fix – Ways to Make an Agenda Work for You

Good news for 2019 – you don’t have to follow the traditional Robert’s Rules order of business if you don’t want to. Read this post for ways to customize an agenda to the needs of your group.

Shhh, It’s a Secret – What No One Tells You about Executive Session

Want to have a closed-door meeting? Here’s the low-down on what you can and can’t do in executive session.

Quick Guide: The Lifecycle of a MotionRemember that previous post on the parliamentary procedure basics for how to make a motion? Here’s “Making Motions – Round 2,” a more detailed guide on the specific language* you should use both for making a motion and, if you’re the presiding officer, for carrying it through to a vote.

Step 1:       Member A Seeks Recognition

Say this →   Mr./Madame President?

Step 2:      The Presiding Officer Recognizes Member A

Say this →   The Chair recognizes Member A.

Step 3:      Member A Makes a Motion

Say this →   I move that we organize an event in March to raise awareness and funds for our capital campaign.

Step 4:      Member B Seconds the Motion

Say this →   Second.

Important Note: The second happens in an impromptu manner. The chair doesn’t have to invite it by asking, “Is there a second?” Nor does the member who makes the second have to seek recognition beforehand.

Step 5:      The Presiding Officer Repeats the Motion

Say this →   It has been moved and seconded that we organize an event in March to raise awareness and funds for our capital campaign.

Step 6:      The Presiding Officer Asks for Discussion**

Say this →   Is there any discussion?

Step 7:      Members Discuss the Motion OR Make Another Motion

Just follow the procedure above. Seek recognition, and once recognized, make comments on the pending motion or make another motion.

Step 8:      The Presiding Officer Takes a Vote

Say this →   If there is no further discussion, we will take a vote. All those in favor of the motion that we organize an event in March to raise awareness and funds for our capital campaign say, “aye.” All those opposed say, “no.” The “ayes” have it and the motion is adopted. We will organize an event in March to raise awareness and funds for our capital campaign.

And there you have it – a simple process with uncomplicated and logical wording. Note the presiding officer’s helpful repetition of the exact words of the motion, preventing confusion and keeping attention focused! Like most parliamentary procedure rules, these steps for proposing action items provide order and efficiency.

*Parliamentary authorities (Robert’s Rules and other guides) differ on the exact words that members and presiding officers should use. Some parliamentarians are “sticklers” about specific language. For the most part, these differences have no practical effect. The steps for processing a motion remain the same. In my view, variations on these words are fine, as long as what is said clearly conveys the correct information.

**This step occurs only if the rules allow discussion on the motion. For example, discussion is not allowed on motions to limit or close debate.