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Robert's Rules for Making a Motion: Mistakes to Avoid

Robert's Rules are designed to facilitate the transaction of business by your group, not to hinder it. If you're going to be effective in meetings, you need to know the right — and wrong — ways to use parliamentary motions.

The following list clues you in to the more frequent and obvious places where some members reveal their tenuous grasp on Robert's Rules of Order:

  • Speaking without recognition: It's a mistake to make just about any motion without first being recognized by the chair. Rise and address the chair ("Mr. President" or "Madam Chairman") and seek recognition in proper form.

  • Moving to "Table!": Many people think tabling a motion is tantamount to killing it, but the motion to Lay on the Table is used to set a pending motion aside temporarily in order to take up something else more pressing or urgent. If you want to kill a main motion, you move to Postpone Indefinitely.

  • Calling the question: When members get tired of hearing the same arguments go back and forth on a pending motion, inevitably somebody calls out, "Question!" or "I call the question!" Your presiding officer may take the opportunity to tell the members that calling the question actually requires a formal motion from a member after being recognized by the chair. Generally, the presiding officer waits until it's clear no one else wants to speak to the issue; calling out "Question" without first obtaining the floor is just plain rude.

  • Tabling it until next month: This is yet another misuse of the word table. What the member who makes this proposal really wants to do is to Postpone to a Certain Time, not Lay on the Table.

    The order of precedence and the rules covering whether the motion is debatable, amendable, and so forth make distinguishing motions important.

  • "Reconsidering" a vote: Under Robert's Rules, reconsider has a very specific meaning sometimes at odds with the word's meaning in general usage. In a meeting run under Robert's Rules, you can reconsider only with respect to a decision made in the current meeting (or on the next day, if the session lasts more than one day).

  • Requesting a point of information: Some people think this motion means they can get the floor to give information. In reality, a point of information is made to enable the member to request information, not to give him an opportunity to speak again!

  • Offering friendly amendments: Most everybody has encountered a well-intended member who offers, "I want to make a friendly amendment." But the fact is, when a motion is on the floor, the maker of the motion no longer owns it. Any motion to amend a main motion depends upon the acceptance of the assembly, not the person who made the original motion.

    Offering a friendly amendment is really patronizing. The best thing to do is to simply get recognition of the chair, move your amendment, and tell the membership why you're offering the amendment.

  • Making a motion to accept or receive reports: Except in some specific situations, motions to accept or receive reports after they're presented shouldn't be entertained. Instead, the chair should simply thank the reporting member and go on to the next item of business.

    Sometimes, a report contains recommendations or suggests the need for the group to take some specific action. In those cases, the presiding officer states the question on the motion that arises from the report, not on whether to adopt the recommendations contained in the report, and not on whether to receive, adopt, or accept the report.

  • Dispensing with the minutes: You don't want to dispense with the minutes; you want to dispense with the reading of the minutes. Minutes must be approved in order to become the official record of the assembly's action. Dispense with their reading if you must, but ask for corrections and approve them at some point in order to have a complete and official record of your meetings.

  • Wasting breath on "I so move": If you just say, "I so move," in response to the presiding officer saying, "The chair will entertain a motion to take a recess," for example, you haven't actually made a motion.

    When you make a motion, propose your action as exactly and specifically as you can. Leave no doubt as to what it is you're asking the membership to agree to.

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