The importance of the agenda

The agenda indicates what will be done at the meeting.

The agenda makes sure that a meeting stays on track and that everyone knows what is happening and what is going to happen next. Without an agenda, a meeting can rapidly become chaotic and important business may not be completed.  Meetings should start on time with one rap of the gavel followed by the Chair saying, “The meeting will come to order.” The call to order is not an actual part of the agenda itself, but rather the signal that the agenda will now begin.

For many organizations the first item on the agenda is some sort of opening ceremony, which serves to get everyone together and ready to start the business of the meeting. Such ceremonies might include an invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, an inspiration, or welcome and introductions. However, if that is not the tradition in your organization, it is not required.

The next step in the meeting is to determine if there is a quorum present (the number of members required to be present to conduct the meeting). Determining a quorum is the job of the chair who may do this by having members sign-in, or by asking the secretary to call the roll. The sign-in and roll call also serves as a method for the secretary to capture the names of those present at the meeting for the minutes.

The adoption of the agenda is a customary practice by many organizations, especially recommended for those who do not meet frequently, or those who send out draft agendas in advance of meetings. At the meeting, members may modify the agenda before adopting it. Once adopted it becomes the order of business for the meeting.  

Once the above is completed the agenda officially begins. The standard order of business according to RONR (11th ed.) is as follows:


Reports of officers, boards and standing committees

Special committee reports

Special orders

Unfinished business

New business

This order of business is easily remembered with the memory device MRS SUN. This tells the items that will be covered as well as the order in which they will be covered.

Minutes: It is not necessary for the chair to ask for a motion to approve the minutes. The chair asks for corrections and those that are required are then made. The minutes can then be accepted by unanimous consent. The chair says, “If there is no objection, the minutes will be adopted as presented (or as corrected).” The chair pauses to see if there is an objection and then says, “Seeing no objections, the minutes are adopted.”

Reports: These reports may be oral or written. In some organizations where the number and length of the reports would require too much time, the report is given in written form to all the members and the officer or committee simply says that everything is in the written report. The officer or committee may make special comments about particular items that are important or were too new to be included. This is often the procedure at the annual meeting.

Special Committee Reports: Special committees were created for a particular purpose. Once they give their final report and whatever recommendations are appropriate, they automatically cease to exist since they don’t have a function any more. Motions that come from recommendations from committee reports do not require a second as long as the committee had more than one member, since it is clear that more than one person supports the making of the motion.

Special Orders: Special orders are items of business that have been defined as special orders at a previous meeting or something that is required by the bylaws to occur at a particular meeting (e.g. elections at the annual meeting). More information on what makes an item of business a special order can be found in RONR (11th ed.) p.185-188 and p.364-365.

Unfinished business: This agenda item is where those things that are “left over” from previous meetings are handled. The organization should take care of this business before starting on new things. One common error is to name unfinished business “Old Business.” Some groups have a hard time distinguishing what old business is. This can result in long discussions about what is new and what is old. Unfinished business should be limited to items that have not been finished but were started at an earlier meeting and were postponed or not completed before adjournment, or were set as a general order to be taken up at this meeting.

New Business: This is where business is started. A main motion is introduced to start this process. Each item is completed before the next one is started, but each item is completed in the same manner by starting with a main motion on a particular issue.

When the business is completed, there are some other items that the organization may need to accomplish at the meeting. This is where announcements can be made and where the program may be included. For example, in parliamentary units, this is where an educational lesson is included. The meeting is recessed in order to have the scheduled educational program. After the program is completed, there may be closing activities or announcements and then adjournment. One reason to wait until after the program is formally adjourned is that there may be other business that members wish to bring before the assembly, which was inspired by the content of the program.

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure and additional resources located at The Parliamentary Procedure Resources Page.  

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