Parliamentary procedure: How do you handle a motion?

A good first step to ensure effective meetings is to know how to properly handle a motion.

This is one in a series of articles on parliamentary procedure and how to conduct more effective organizational meetings. For a complete list in this series go to the Parliamentary Procedure resource.

A simple way to help meetings run more smoothly is to know how to properly introduce and manage official business. The procedure of a member presenting an idea or issue to a board for a certain action is known as making a motion.   

Most people on official boards are familiar with the process of making a motion but oftentimes are less clear on how to manage a motion properly. As a professional registered parliamentarian working for Michigan State University Extension, I consider the gold standard of parliamentary procedure to be Robert’s Rules of Order, a book first published in 1876. If the six steps outlined in the newly revised 11th edition are followed, board chairs should have control over their meetings and members should all be clear on the decisions that need to be made.

Step 1: A member of a board who wants to make a motion must first be recognized by the chair of the meeting.  To be recognized, the member can stand, raise their hand or address the chair by their title. In response, the chair offers a simple nod, or repeats the member’s title or name to assign the floor.  This seems like an obvious and simple first step, however, it is one that is often overlooked.

The member makes a motion by saying “I move to … ” or “I move that … ” To keep business moving, the member should avoid explanation of why he is making the motion.  An explanation is most appropriate when members debate the justification for the motion (see Step 4).

Step 2: A member seconds the motion. Seconding a motion indicates that at least two people believe the motion is worthy of discussion.

Step 3: The chair states the motion: “It is moved and seconded to ... ” At this point the motion now belongs to the group (not the maker or the “seconder”). The chair then asks if there is any debate.

Step 4: Members debate the motion. The chair always should allow the maker of the motion to speak first provided the maker wishes to be recognized. This is the time to elaborate on the motion, including reasons for bringing it forward and informing members about the motion and any necessary background or context.  From time to time members don’t want to “debate” the motion (no discussion) and in that case the motion can go directly to a vote (see Step 5).

Step 5: The chair puts the question to a vote. Once all members who wish to speak have done so, the chair should ask members if they are “ready for the question?” At this time the chair repeats the motion so that members are clear on what they will be voting. The chairs says, “The question is on the adoption of the motion to … ”  The chair calls for the vote by asking for all those in favor to say “aye” and all oppose to say “no.”

Step 6: Results are announced in the final step. The chair should declare the motion as adopted or lost depending on the outcome of the vote. If adopted, the chair should indicate the effect of the vote or order its execution. If lost the chair moves on and announces the next item of business.

Notice that within the steps outlined above the chair repeats the motion on the floor three times. A common mistake is that the chair never repeats the motion at hand, which could create confusion for members as to the exact item up for discussion or vote.  Accordingly, MSU Extension encourages people who preside over meetings to practice these steps so they become second nature and are never skipped over.

This is one in a series of articles on parliamentary procedure and how to conduct more effective organizational meetings. For a complete list in this series go to the Parliamentary Procedure resource.

Watch MSU Extension for monthly articles posted on commonly asked questions about how to use parliamentary procedure. As a professional registered parliamentarian with the National Association of Parliamentarians, the primary reference for the answers to the questions will be based on Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th Edition. See the Robert's Rules Society for information on how to adopt RONR as your organization’s parliamentary authority.

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