Robert's Rules for Productive Meetings: Use an Agenda

In spite of the great organizational tools and techniques available in Robert's Rules, for some reason, meetings happen all the time in which presiding officers fly by the seat of their pants — going over last month's minutes, rehashing old decisions, interspersing real discussions with commentary, and suppressing anybody who tries to move things along.

If you're unlucky enough to be a member of one such organization, then you already know the importance of knowing how to make a meeting run with a reasonable amount of dispatch. If not, know that the future is now for anyone who can be efficient and effective when it comes to running meetings.

When it comes to meetings, the way to be efficient and effective simultaneously is to prepare and make good use of an agenda, which is essentially a program or listing of the events and items of business. The agenda may be adopted (that is, be made binding on the meeting), or it may simply be a guide to keep the meeting on track. Adopting your agenda is sometimes a good idea because it gets everybody in agreement with the meeting plan at the beginning of the meeting.

Robert's Rules gives an order of business but doesn't mandate any particular agenda. However, the Rules do offer an agenda protocol that has been so widely used that it's almost universally accepted as a fundamental meeting plan. Not everything in the agenda shown here is necessary in every situation, and sometimes your agenda may need to be even more extensive and detailed. But this basic agenda is a great arrangement of events:

  1. Call to order

    Start the meeting on time. A single rap of the gavel at the appointed hour and the declaration, "The meeting will come to order" is sufficient. You can't finish on time if you don't start on time, and everybody knows when the meeting starts.

  2. Opening ceremonies

    Your group may customarily open meetings with an invocation and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The protocol is "God before country" (meaning you invoke the deity before you salute the flag), so plan to make your invocation before you say the Pledge. This part of the agenda is also the place to include any special opening fraternal rituals, a greeting given by one of your officers, or anything else that might reasonably fall under the category of ceremony.

  3. Roll call

    If your group is a public body, or if you have a rule that certain officers must be in attendance before the meeting can proceed, this is the time to call the roll. But if you don't have a rule requiring it, don't waste your time on this item.

  4. Consent calendar

    This item isn't used often, except in specialized organizations such as public legislative bodies or a large professional society's house of delegates. A consent calendar quickly processes a lot of noncontroversial items that can be disposed of quickly by placing them on a list (the consent calendar) of items to be adopted all at once. The list can also contain special preference items to be considered in order at the appropriate time. This consent calendar is usually placed in an order of business by a special rule of order, and its placement is generally of relatively high rank.

  5. Standard order of business

    Everything on the agenda outside of the standard order of business is really just ancillary to the meeting. All the business really begins with the approval of the minutes and ends when you're finished with any new business.

  6. Good of the order

    This is a time set aside for members to offer comments or observations (without formal motions) about the society and its work. The good of the order is also the time to offer a resolution to bring a disciplinary charge against a member for offenses committed outside of a meeting.

  7. Announcements

    This portion of the basic agenda sets aside time for officers (and members, when appropriate) to make announcements. However, the fact that this is an agenda item does not prevent the chair from making an emergency announcement at any time.

  8. Program

    If you're offering some other general presentation of interest to your members, whether it's a film, a guest speaker, a lecturer, or any other program, present it before the meeting is adjourned. If you would rather conduct the program at some other place in the agenda, it may be scheduled to take place before the minutes are read or, by suspending the rules, inserted within the standard order of business.

    Guest speakers are often on tight schedules, so it's quite proper for the chair to ask for unanimous consent to place the program at any convenient place on the agenda, even if the only convenient place is within the order of business.

  9. Adjourn

    This part of the agenda marks the end of the meeting — time to go home. But don't leave until the chair declares the meeting adjourned, or you may just miss something important.

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