Category Archives: meeting procedure

Making Minutes a Thing of Beauty

Are your meeting minutes boring, bad, deficient, mysterious? … Our free guide will help ensure your minutes are focussed, effective, useful, and sufficient unto their purpose!


You can download it from here:




“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?” III

Points of order, machinery issues/motions, and rulings: this third article helps inexperienced Chairs of formal or semi-formal meetings understand them, and concludes our series.

In our first article we briefly covered the formal or semi-formal nature of meetings, and what that means, and what it means that the Chair is in charge.  You can have a look at it here

In our second article we covered the five basics of an efficient meeting: an agenda, reports, proposals, discussion, decisions. It’s available here

In this article we’re covering Topics Four and Five: points of order and machinery issues/motions, and rulings.

Fourth, understand points of order and machinery issues/motions.

There are plenty of decisions made in meetings which are called “machinery” or procedural, because they are (allegedly, sometimes …) about making the meeting run smoothly.  These include motions like:

  • “That the speaker be allowed an extension of time of 5 minutes”
  • “That debate be ended, and the motion be now put”
  • “That owing to the meeting running late, item 6 on the agenda be dealt with last and item 10 on the agenda be dealt with now”
  • “That the meeting dissent from the Chair’s ruling that Kevin Rudd is eligible to vote”.

The standing orders of many organisations require machinery motions to go to a vote with very restricted debate, or with no debate.

If a dissent motion is moved, the Chair probably needs to vacate the Chair and hand it over to someone else until the dissent motion is dealt with, at which time you resume Chairing.  If a motion to dissent is carried, the Chair must make an alternative ruling (sometimes making no ruling is an alternative).

Sometimes, the Chair can propose a machinery or process actions to the meeting, and members may be comfortable to accept it without a vote – in most cases you would call this a ruling.  You might express it something like this: “As we are running out of time, I propose we deal with item 11 on the agenda now, and adjourn the other items to the next meeting.  If no-one has a better suggestion, I’ll rule this way.”  You would only do this sort of thing if you were confident it was necessary and would be approved.  If you are not sure it would be approved, you could say this instead: “As we are running out of time, I propose we deal with item 11 on the agenda now, and adjourn the other items to the next meeting.  Would someone like to move that?”

Points of order are process/machinery suggestions from attendees other than the Chair.  People will say things like:

  • “This speaker is off topic and you should rule her out of order”
  • “Bob has spoken already in this debate – if he wants to speak twice then I want to speak twice”
  • “Julie isn’t debating the issue, she’s just being nasty about people”
  • “We’ve already decided this – we shouldn’t discuss it again and again and again”.

Points or Order are sometimes very helpful, pointing out things the Chair hasn’t noticed.  The Chair must make a ruling on every point of order, and debate stops until you make your ruling, but a Chair needs to be alert to sneaky debaters who sometimes try to make a debating point rather than a procedural point; for example:

  • “Point of order!  The speaker is talking rubbish” or
  • “Point of information … the facts are …”

are not points of order at all – they are debating arguments which should be made during debate.

You don’t have to agree with the point of order when you rule on it – you are allowed to say, and should say when appropriate “There’s no such thing as a ‘point of information’ – please sit down” or “That isn’t a point of order” or “I reject your point of order because Bob hasn’t spoken previously – that was a point of order he made earlier, which doesn’t count as speaking in the debate.”

(From Amazon website)

Fifth, understand the rulings you can make.

Rulings are decisions the Chair makes, about how the meeting should run.  You mightn’t realise it, but you are making implied rulings from the Chair all the time: who is eligible to speak, who speaks next, whether there have been enough speakers on a motion, calling an uncontroversial motion carried, and so on – the meeting just flows around this kind of ruling.  Sometimes, though, when the meeting is going astray, you need to make a formal ruling, to get it back on track.  Some examples:

  • “I rule you are going off topic and need to refocus or finish speaking”
  • “No, you can’t speak again – you’ve already spoken in this debate”
  • “Your language is offensive to others present and I’m ruling you out of order.  Sit down.”
  • “We dealt with the issue you’re talking about last meeting.  If you want to overturn a past decision, you need to move a rescission motion, and now isn’t the right time.”

Make rulings sparingly, and only when necessary or very desirable – if you make them too often, people will start to worry you’re suppressing democracy!



These are very basic rules about Chairing – there are whole books on the topic – so if you are going to Chair more often, you might want to think about more formal training.

A few final tips:


You can download the whole of these three articles in one file, here




“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?” II

Are you new to chairing very formal or semi-formal meetings?   This article will give you the basics on agendas, reports, motions, debates and decisions – it is the second of a three-part series.

In our previous first-time-chairing article, we laid out the formal or semi-formal nature of meetings, and what that means (Topic One), as well as setting out what it means that the Chair is in charge (Topic Two) – check it out here

We also identified Topic Three – the five basics of an efficient meeting:

  • an agenda,
  • reports,
  • proposals,
  • discussion, and
  • decisions.

Those 5 cover pretty much everything, and they’re the subject of this article.

We’re going to cover Topic Four (points of order and machinery issues/motions) and Topic Five (rulings) in the third and final article in the series, next week.

The Agenda

… is the list of things to be discussed – it should reflect what’s important.

If there’s no agenda, make it the first meaty bit of business you deal with: ask the meeting “what does this meeting need to deal with?” and once you’ve got a few suggestions you can ask “which are the ones we should deal with first?”  If there is an agenda, and you don’t like it, you can ask the meeting if there are any additions or changes proposed to the agenda.  If there’s no agenda at meeting after meeting, that’s a big flashing billboard saying, “These meetings are inefficient – the Chair and Secretary must together provide agendas for future meetings”.

If anyone tries to raise issues not covered by the agenda, you need to be alert to the interests of those who couldn’t get there: if the issue is contentious or impacts on those missing, you might want to say, “We shouldn’t be making a decision about this since missing members didn’t get notice of it and it is important they have their say – can we refer this item to the next meeting for decision, so everyone knows it is coming up?”

There is nearly always a decision (or several decisions) made at each and every every agenda item – for example, to note a report.  A good Chair will encourage a decision at each item, if no-one in the meeting initiates a proposal


… provide information to guide the meeting on decisions they might need to make.

They are usually flagged in the agenda e.g. “Item 6(a) … Report from the Finance Committee” and there should normally be someone there to talk about it.  One big meeting destroyer is over-long reports, usually under-prepared.  When you call on someone to deliver a report (By saying “We’re up to the Finance Committee report on the agenda – who will deliver this report?”) you can also say something like “We’ve got a lot of business to get through – can you speak for 5 minutes and we will have time for questions afterwards?”

Good reports include proposals to the meeting, arising from the report.  Poor reports don’t have any concrete outcomes and sometimes do no more than provide information.


… usually called motions, proposals are about action – a motion without an action component should be immediately suspect – if there is no action why bother?

Almost every agenda item should result in a proposal and if something happens in the meeting and no-one moves a motion in consequence, the Chair should initiate a proposal by asking a question: “Would anyone like to move that we adopt the recommendation?” or “What should we do about this report?  Does anyone want to propose anything?” or similar.

As Chair, you can ask for motions to be redrafted for clarity or to add missing bits, but you would normally only do so if the meeting seemed to need it – you should always ask for motions to be written down if they are more than a single, short sentence, to make it easier for a proper record of decisions to be kept, and to make sure there is no ambiguity in what is being proposed.  Every motion requires someone to propose it – the “mover” and someone additional to support it – the “seconder”.

Once someone moves a motion and exercises their right to speak, the Chair then always asks for a seconder and names them.  Motions without a seconder present at the meeting don’t get discussed any further – if the mover’s speech hasn’t won over a seconder, it means they motion has little support, so the meeting shouldn’t spend time on it.

Once motions have been moved, seconded and debated, they must be put to the vote – see “decisions” below.

Controversial or important motions normally appear on the meeting notice and agenda, so people with an interest in the issue can make sure to attend.

The Discussion

… is supposed to help the meeting understand enough about an issue to make an informed decision.  Discussion is often the biggest destroyer of effective meetings, because so many participants don’t understand discussion should happen in only three circumstances:

  • a question and answer after a report;
  • debating whether to accept, reject or amend the motion; and
  • the meeting decides to suspend the rule (suspend standing orders) to have a free-for-all discussion.

For informal meetings you or the meeting may choose to relax some of those rules, but if you do then let people know you’ll go back to more formal rules if things bog down or go in circles or degenerate.

Many participants don’t understand they only get to speak once, never get to speak over others (except when making a point of order or procedural motion – see below) go way off-topic, or would talk forever.  When people are doing any of these things, you must pull them up.  If the meeting might run over time, you can suggest, or ask the meeting to impose time limits on speakers, thus: “We’re in danger of going over time, so I suggest we limit speakers to five minutes only – is everyone OK with that or should I put the time limit to a vote?” or similar.

Most times, discussion involves debating a motion.  All standing orders have important things to say about the rules of debating, and these are very common requirements:

  • Mover and seconder get to speak first, then you must invite speakers against the motion;
  • If there is no opposition, go straight to a decision;
  • If anyone wants to speak against, up to two speakers against go next;
  • After the first two speakers against, it’s one speaker for, followed by one against, and repeat;
  • As soon as one “side” or the other runs out of speakers, the mover always gets a right of reply to what’s been said in debate; and
  • After the “right of reply” speech, no-one else gets to speak, and you must get the meeting to make a decision.


… are the whole point of a meeting; they are supposed to be well-informed, and about things which are clear – it’s the Chair’s job to make sure of that, and it’s why most motions should be written down, and why we have discussion.  Meetings often decide these sort of things:

  • to admit new members,
  • to accept the minutes of a previous meeting as being true and accurate,
  • to accept inward correspondence and endorse outward correspondence,
  • to reject a recommendation to increase Board sitting fees, and
  • to set the date and time for the Annual General Meeting.

All decisions happen through the Chair asking the meeting to vote.  The Chair says, “all those in favour say ‘aye’”, calls out how many have voted yes, then says “all those against say ‘nay’” and calls out how many have voted no.  Sometimes the Chair might need to ask, “are there any abstentions” and calls out the number of abstentions, when issues have been controversial.  The Chair always announces the result this way: “I declare the motion lost [or carried]”.  So many inexperienced Chairs forget to call for those against and declare it carried or lost!

If you are lucky, your standing orders set out a way to resolve tied votes.  Usually, a tied vote is declared lost.  Sometimes, the Chair has what’s called a casting vote, to be exercised only when a motion is tied, as a way to break the deadlock.  In this case, depending on your standing orders, the Chair gets a second vote.  Some rules say that the Chair can’t vote on anything at all except to use a casting vote.  You need to know which way your standing orders go!

All decisions must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting, similarly to this example below, although you usually don’t need to record numbers for and against:

Moved: Mike Smith/Seconded: Stephen Robertson

That the Treasurer’s report be received, and that the proposed budget for next financial year be approved.

Lost with 3 for, 4 against, and 3 abstentions.



In the next and final first-time chairing article, we’ll cover Topics Four and Five: points of order and machinery issues/motions, and rulings.  That’ll be out next week.

Please offer any thoughts you’ve got, about what needs to be added or changed!





“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?”

It’s terrifying the first time, but much easier if you are on top of the basics.

If you’re on any kind of committee, or in a political party branch, it will happen sooner or later: you’ll be taken by surprise when the Chair is away, or quits, and someone says, “Can you chair the meeting, please?”

The basics can be covered in just five topics!

First*, these are formal or semi-formal meetings, not social chats, with a purpose to it – usually, reaching informed agreement on something – and the Chair is responsible for ensuring that objective is reached.

Somewhere, there’s a set of meeting rules, maybe called “standing orders” which tell you how you run the meeting to get to the objective.  If don’t know of any such thing, ask; if there’s no rules offered up then make sure you have a read through a set of reasonably complete standing orders or meeting rules (e.g. this sample which sets out most of the basic rules.

Second, understand the Chair is in charge, but is bound by the rules and any lawful decisions made by the organisation.  You might need to insist on your role being recognised: e.g. no-one talking over you, and if someone disagrees with a decision you make they don’t get to just stand up and say, “you’re wrong” they must understand only the meeting can overturn your decision.  The downside is this: as Chair you need to be careful about what you say (“rulings” are addressed in a later article) so as not to interfere with informed decision-making, and you shouldn’t actively participate in debate on proposals.

Third, understand the five components of an efficient meeting: an agenda, reports, proposals, discussion, decisions.  Those 5 cover pretty much everything.

We’re going to cover each of those five components of Topic Three in our second first-time-chairing article, next week, and we’re going to cover Topic Four (points of order and machinery issues/motions) and Topic Five (rulings) in the third and final article in the series.

Please offer any thoughts you’ve got, about what needs to be added or changed!


* As a result of some feedback, we’ve amended this a little!




Teleconference Blues & How To Beat Them

Are you driven crazy by frustrating teleconferences? We spend a lot of time on teleconferences, including formal board and committee meetings, and these twelve tips below can make the experience much more effective and pleasant.

One: Early chairs get the worms: whoever is chairing or moderating should get online a few minutes before the session is due to start, and make sure all of the technology is working properly, at least from their end. If they commence the session smoothly and well-prepared, the rest of the session is more likely to go that way, rather than starting with a big fumble – which I’m sure we’ve all seen and heard many times.

Two: Start on time: don’t wait for stragglers, which is the same rule applies in face-to-face meetings. If you’ve got ten people on the line, and someone is six minutes late and you’ve waited for them, you’ve wasted an entire hour of what might otherwise have been productive time. Setting aside the very rare occasions on which lateness is simply inevitable, when people arrive late they are saying their time is more important than that of others.

Three: Background noise: when you’re convening the meeting, asked participants to locate themselves where there will be minimum background noise, or ask them to mute their microphone during the call if background noise can’t be eliminated (but it’s better to leave the microphone open and eliminate background noise, so people can participate more effectively). The person who doesn’t appreciate that this is a problem with background noise is almost always the person whose location is the source. Warn people before a teleconference they must not put the call on hold, as most phone systems have music or tones which will destroy a teleconference – and remind them at the start of the meeting.

Four: Normal meeting rules apply: whoever is chairing, and someone should always be chairing, needs to understand that normal meeting rules and courtesy apply: they need to stop individuals talking over others, talking multiple times to the one topic, or talking at unnecessary length.

Five: Maximise technology: just as videoconferencing (e.g. Skype or Zoom or commercial products) will improve the focus of participants and minimise distraction, making use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing systems which allow document sharing and presentations makes them much more engaging and effective.  See below under “Taking turns” for a note about managing participation in large calls, via online technology solutions.

Six: Agenda: send out a draft agenda in plenty of time for participants to understand what the purpose is, particularly if it’s not a single-topic meeting and send out the material which it is presumed participants will be across; it’s a good idea to ask for proposed changes to the agenda right up front in the meeting as well. These things are significantly more important for online meetings and teleconferences than for face to face meetings.

Seven: Multitasking: asked participants to turn off electronic items they are not using for the call; for example if they are making the call via a desk phone, ask them to turn off their mobile phone, and where they don’t need it, their computer. Multitasking is a source of great inattentiveness in teleconferences – which is one reason videoconferences through Zoom or Skype or commercial alternatives can be more effective: you can see when people are not paying attention.

Eight: Accommodate remote participants: what are the worst experiences can be when you are remote from the main meeting, and are as a consequence marginalised by those who are present in person. The chair needs to be mindful that it is harder to participate on the end of a teleconference, and specifically ask for input from individuals online.

Nine: Taking turns: when you’re on a teleconference where people are constantly interrupting and talking over one another, you’ll feel like hanging up or screaming. A good way to get around this issue is for the chair to have a list of participants, and instead of throwing the floor open after a topic has been raised or a proposal advanced, to ask each individual in the call, one by one, to offer up their thoughts. This not only maximises participation but reduces the frustration of people talking over one another. No one should ever ask a question which invites participants to talk over the top of one another.  This works if you’ve got up to perhaps a dozen participants, but becomes cumbersome after that.  For bigger calls, there are technology solutions, set up and managed online, which allow participants to be muted/unmuted by the Chair, all together or one at a time, and through participants “put their hands up” by pressing their keypad when they want to speak – see for a short explanation of one variety of this technology, and this is another

Ten: Maximise participation: using the taking turns approach outlined above is a great way to ensure that everyone is involved in the discussion, but other tactics will also help. Setting limits on the amount of speaking time consumed by individuals, and giving the chair a mute button to ensure time limits are observed will ensure that enough time for everyone to have their say.

Eleven: Get your slides right: if you are using a system which allows the sharing of slides, use a best practice approach to such presentations; text heavy slides, and presenters who simply read their slides, are a big no-no.

Twelve: Terminate: because teleconferences and videoconferences can be much more draining than face-to-face discussions, give such sessions a strict time limit, and stick to it. If necessary, and while everyone is still on the line and hasn’t had to go to the next meeting or other activity, establish an agreed time for an adjourned meeting.

Let us know about any of your favourite teleconference fixes, if we haven’t suggested them above!




Happy Anniversary To Us!

_LDP8380-cropped and smallAlmost exactly a year ago, Stephen Robertson and Mike Smith relaunched Ethical Consulting Services as a partnership.

We’re still having fun helping clients with

  • Governance and meeting skills
  • Government and stakeholder relations
  • Project and inbound investment facilitation
  • Branding, marketing, campaigns, and communication

… and training in any of the above!



Better Meetings: How?

meeting-angry-dollarDo you spend too much time in meetings that drive you nuts and waste your time?

There’s remarkably little good advice around, about how to make your meetings better, so we’re fixing that.

You can try:

  • this article from Bob Holderness-Rodham, which is reasonably simple and basic, or
  • this blog post from us, which is a bit deeper, or
  • this article from the Institute of Company Directors, which is mostly for higher-level and more formal meetings but does have many good suggestions,

or send us a message – we’re already helping others out with training and mentoring, customised to their needs!