How the rules of Parliamentary Procedure can be used to improve everyday meetings

Elizabeth Jordan and Larry Lyons

Everyday millions of people attend business meetings hoping for useful information to be shared and decisions made. Many are disappointed as the chair fails to take control, questions are left unanswered and outcomes are unclear.

Given a widespread dissatisfaction with meeting how can we contribute to making them more productive? How can we leave a meeting feeling that value has been added?

One approach to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everyday meetings and to boosting attendee satisfaction is to apply parliamentary procedure, specifically Robert's Rules of Order.

The book of Robert's Rules of Order was first written in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert to address the chaos he observed at many of the meetings he attended.

Robert's Rules of Order describes the set of rules and codes that provide a structured framework for managing discussions, making decisions, and ensuring orderly conduct during meetings. With this systematic approach to conducting meetings, decisions are reached democratically, and desired objectives are achieved.

Let us share four tips on how to apply this approach in your business, save time at meetings and achieve productive outcomes.

The Chair

In parliamentary procedure, the role of the chair or facilitator, is pivotal to the success of the meeting. The chair should command the respect of the meeting and be seen to be fair to all. An important role of the chair is in summarising what has been discussed at the end of each specific topic to ensure that everyone is given the same information regarding any decision that has been taken and the next steps to follow. This avoids the well-known problem of people leaving the meeting unsure of its purpose and what is required of them.

The Agenda

Under Roberts Rules of Order an agenda is considered essential to provide a clear structure for conducting meetings. A draft agenda should be circulated in advance of every meeting and be adopted’ at the start of the meeting. ‘Adopting the agenda’ sends a strong signal that attendees buy into the meeting and are ready to participate. The items on the agenda are then followed in a systematic manner, with each item addressed and discussed before moving on to the next one. This avoids the discussion becoming derailed and promotes a focused approach to the meeting. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of important matters being overlooked. In fact, there are some people who feel strongly that without an agenda, there is no point attending a meeting.

Orderly discussion

There are times during meetings when the loud extrovert voices may dominate the discussion and exclude quieter more introverted members. Parliamentary Procedure offers a solution to this common problem. It provides a process by which the discussion takes place in an orderly manner. A person wishing to speak has to first address the chair, and the chair then has to call the person by name and invite them to speak, this respectful interchange helps to set the tone for an orderly discussion. In this way members, one after another, have a chance to express their opinion without interruption, leading to a more positive and productive discussion and decision making. Roberts Rules of Order also allow for people to challenge the chair (politely) if it is felt that the correct procedures are not being followed. It also allows for people to request work to be sent to a committee, adjourn the meeting and much more. This makes for an orderly and productive meeting using an established framework.

Efficient use of time

One of the major complaints about meetings is that most run over the allotted time. Robert's Rules of Order offers opportunities to overcome this problem in many ways. The use of a process known as ‘unanimous consent’ to expedite non-controversial matters being addressed is a tool that could be used in everyday meetings. For example, the adoption of the agenda, the approval of the meeting minutes, moving a meeting to a new date and time could be dealt with in this manner. Having the agenda and related documents circulated in advance of the meeting increases the chance that people will arrive prepared and ready to participate ensuring that time is used efficiently. By enforcing time limits on discussions, people are encouraged to be clear and concise in their presentations. The effect of adhering to these rules is an efficient use of time and more productive meetings.


Today where meetings are global, diverse and complex, the framework of Roberts Rules of Order is needed more than ever. In short, it offers an opportunity for fair, focused and productive meetings where diverse voices and views can be heard, decisions can be made in a democratic and timely manner and higher satisfaction levels of meeting participants achieved.

You can find out more in the current most widely used version of his book "Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised".

Elizabeth Jordan is Director D71, and Larry Lyons is Parliamentarian D71 at Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

Written by
May 10, 2024
Written by
Elizabeth Jordan and Larry Lyons
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