How to Chair a Convention or Large Membership Meeting

Chairing a Convention or Large Membership Meeting
AFL-CIO Convention

Most of the time, I seem to be advising boards on how to run less formal meetings. That’s because the major parliamentary authorities, such as Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition) and The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (“Sturgis”), recognize that boards with not more than about 12 members present can follow more relaxed procedures (and only be more formal if the circumstances require it). For examples of smaller board procedure, see Board Procedures Versus a Membership Meeting or Convention.

Even so, you will occasionally encounter larger meetings—homeowner or condominium membership meetings, conventions, church meetings, shareholder meetings, membership meetings of nonprofit associations or unions—where more formal procedure will be necessary. First, it’s difficult to have a “conversation” with 50+ members. Another reason for using more formal procedure in larger assemblies is to ensure that meeting formalities have been followed by an assembly that would likely have trouble reconvening in the event of procedural problems. And lastly, if your parliamentary authority is Robert’s due to statutory or governing documents language, larger meetings are SUPOPOSED to be more formal.

Rules for Larger Meetings or Conventions from Robert’s Rules of Order

Here are some elements of more formal procedures for larger meetings:

  1. No member should speak without first being recognized by the presiding officer (except for a few procedural motions). Different groups allow members to be recognized in different ways.  In conventions, delegates often have to go to a microphone and await recognition. In membership meetings, a member will likely just stand up at his or her place. In other groups a raised hand may be all that is necessary.
  2. Generally, no debate is permitted unless there is a motion on the floor. Formal procedure is focused on accomplishing things, not just talking about things. A motion also gives you something specific to talk about. Because of this, business starts with a motion.
  3. Most motions require a second. In smaller boards, due to fewer members, seconds are often not required for motions. However, in a larger assembly, the requirement of a second acts as a gatekeeper. If at least two members don’t even want to discuss a matter, the assembly should spend its time elsewhere.
  4. The proposer of a motion should speak first to it (which is also true in smaller assemblies). Once a motion is made and seconded, good presiding officers repeat the motion and then immediately ask the maker, “Would you like to speak to your motion?”
  5. Several rules apply to debate in a formal setting. Anyone who has not spoken gets to speak before anyone who has already spoken. In order to facilitate this, the chair may ask, “Is there someone who would like to speak who has not yet spoken?” And on controversial matters, debate should alternate pro and con as much as possible.
  6. Once every member has had an opportunity to speak a first time on a motion, a member may be permitted to speak a second time to that motion. Then, the member is done for the day as to that motion.  The member can, of course, speak twice to other debatable motions. But on any specific motion, a member can only speak twice per day.
  7. If your parliamentary authority is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, no one can speak at one time for more than 10 minutes. Many conventions adopt special rules that limit debate even greater, such as to five or three minutes per person at one time.
  8. All remarks must be addressed to the chair. Such a practice can prevent arguments among members.
  9. Unlike in smaller boards where such a practice may be common, the presiding officer refrains from participating in debate or making motions.
  10. The presiding officer only votes if that vote will make a difference, such as to make or to break a tie.

Without question, these are just a couple of tips for larger meetings.  After all, most of the 714 pages of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition) are devoted to formal procedure. However, even these few suggestions should help any convention or large membership meeting run more smoothly. Bringing meetings more in line with proper procedure will result in shorter, more effective meetings.


[This article has been updated to Jim’s latest books based on the new Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition).]

  • Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track is a quick go-to guide that provides details on the most used motions, appropriate informal procedures for smaller boards, and general advice for shortening meetings. It was the #1 “hot release” in its Amazon category, as small a category as that might be. A recent review of the book can be found at Book Review: Run, Don’t Walk, to Buy Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track.
  • Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition is a user’s guide to Robert’s Rules that uses questions-and-answers to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, including those that apply to larger membership meetings. Notes and Comments has received the Phifer Award from the National Communication Association.

The reviewing side of Publisher’s Weekly posted great reviews of both books, and each was selected as an “Editor’s Pick,” which is described as “a book of outstanding quality.” If of interest, the reviews can be found at Reviews are in for New Parliamentary Procedure Books!


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