What are special rules of order in Robert’s Rules?

Updated July 14, 2021

Special rules of order are permanent rules, specific to your group, that guide your discussions and meetings. They allow you to make sure that your group talks about things and makes decisions in the way that works best for you.

Robert’s Rules of Order encourages groups to set up their own special rules of order as needed. Your parliamentary authority, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, latest edition, becomes the foundation. You then build a house in which to live by choosing your own bylaws and special rules of order. This flexibility is very helpful!

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Example of a special rule of order

An example of a special rule of order would be a rule setting a time limit for speeches. Robert’s Rules says that each member may speak twice for up to 10 minutes at a time on each subject, per day. That is too long for most groups, so your board might decide that “five minutes” is the limit. The rule would read:

The maximum time for a speech by a board member is 5 minutes.

If you’d like to know more on time limits, read our article Time limits create productive meetings.

How to adopt special rules of order?

The size of the group makes a difference in how to adopt special rules of order.

  • For a body with a large membership, give advance notice of the proposed rules and then take a vote. If two-thirds of those voting are in favor, they are adopted.
  • For a smaller body like a board of directors, all that is necessary is that a majority of the entire membership of the board vote in favor. No advance notice is needed, though circulating the proposals ahead of time is likely to increase buy-in from the members.


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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. Marilyn Griffin on April 18, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    When holding a Board meeting can those in the audience speak during the meeting at any time.
    We have workshop about 4 days prior to a regular Board meeting at which
    the audience can speak but not at the regular board meeting.

    I have been told according to Roberts Rules members of the audience can speak at the
    regular Board meetings. Can you quote this rule for me.

    • Ann Macfarlane on April 18, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      Dear Marilyn,
      It is a fundamental rule of Robert’s Rules of Order that MEMBERS of a body have the right to speak at a meeting, but NON-MEMBERS may speak only if permission is given. There may be additional rules pertaining to this subject in your bylaws, regulations, or laws governing the body, but that is the basic parliamentary position. See Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised 11th edition (the latest edition) page 648 “Any nonmembers allowed in the hall during a meeting, as guests of the organization, have no rights with reference to the proceedings.” Of course if the law says something different, that supersedes Robert’s Rules. This is not legal advice!
      Thanks for writing –