The most useful and practical phrase a chair can say

gears with word practical

Can Stock Photo/tang90246

Updated April 25, 2024

It’s a little risky to make extreme claims, but in the view of Jurassic Parliament, the most useful and practical phrase a chair can say is:

Members will kindly seek recognition before speaking.

This is based on our 25+ years of experience, in which the tendency of meetings to dissolve into conversations among the members is ever-present.

When that happens, and people blurt something out, or start talking directly to each other, the chair can use the this phrase to firmly and politely remind people of the rules.

Discussion is not a conversation

As we emphasize in all our work, normally discussion at board meetings is NOT A CONVERSATION. In a conversation, dominant people tend to dominate, and agreeable people tend to let them. This leads to back-and-forth, interruptions, arguments, and shutting some members out of the dialogue.

The remedy is that superb rule:

No one may speak a second time until everyone who wishes to do so has spoken once.

The chair functions as a “benevolent dictator” by insisting that everyone who wishes to speak must seek recognition from the chair. You “seek recognition” by raising a hand or pressing a button, if you have an electronic system. In this way the chair keeps control of the discussion, and creates a level playing field.

More casual phrases to use

If these words are too formal for your group, you can phrase this directive more lightly. When someone speaks up without being recognized, you can say,

Excuse me, in order to keep things fair, everyone please wait to speak
until you have been recognized by the chair.

When someone interrupts, you can say,

Just a moment, Josh, Elaine has the floor.

Exact words from Robert’s Rules

This rule is expressed in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition, in a more formal manner:

No member who has already had the floor in debate on the immediately pending question is entitled to it again on the same day for debate on the same question so long as any member who has not yet spoken claims the floor. Section 42:9 (2)

Including everyone and advancing equity

This approach is also the best way to provide for equity, inclusion, and belonging. Members from less-recognized populations will receive their due opportunity. When everyone’s right to speak is equally respected, the group can develop a sense of common commitment.

And if the board is divided and at odds, this rule will at least keep order.

What do you think about this? Have you tried it? Let us know!

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. Gayle Brauner on May 31, 2023 at 9:22 am

    Thank you, Ann, for sending the information about the Chair’s role in directing the discussion, making sure that meetings are conducted in equitable, sensible, ways, and specific phrases to direct members to follow the ‘rules’ of discussion.

    • Ann Macfarlane on May 31, 2023 at 12:28 pm

      Thank you Gayle!

  2. Beverly on May 31, 2023 at 10:36 am

    I have used these points.
    Just wish others would abide by them.
    That is life.
    Thank you.

    • Ann Macfarlane on May 31, 2023 at 12:28 pm

      Thank you Beverly!

  3. Valerie Bury on May 31, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for this. As my president position I try hard at accomplishing the control of the meeting and board members comments. I have 2 members that clash all the time. It get very frustrating.

    • Ann Macfarlane on May 31, 2023 at 3:09 pm

      Hope it helps, Valerie! Good luck to you.

  4. David Proud on June 1, 2023 at 1:39 am

    Wise words Ann, obviously the distillation of a life of observation and recording. Thanks

    • Ann Macfarlane on June 1, 2023 at 9:37 am

      You are very kind, David, thank you!