Vocabulary for formal meetings

Businesspeople go to a lot of meetings. Most of them are probably informal with just a few clients or team members. But from time to time you’ll find yourself in a bigger meeting where formal steps—known as parliamentary procedure, or parliamentary law—are followed.

Rules about when someone gets to speak make the meeting efficient and productive. Otherwise, you might have one person drone on, or a few people get into a shouting match, and nothing gets done.

Parliamentary procedure has a special vocabulary. Many of the words seem simple, but the meanings may be different than what you expect. To help you at your next big meeting, here are some of the main words used, listed in the usual order of procedure, from start to finish:

  1. Chair—the person in charge of the meeting. Some people will say “chairman” and “chairwoman”, or even “chairperson”, but most people now just say "chair” for either a man or a woman. Chair can also be the action of leading the meeting. 
  2. Call to order—the chair starts the meeting.
  3. Minutes—detailed notes about what happened at a meeting.
  4. Adopt—to accept something.
  5. Standing committee—a group that is a permanent part of the organization.
  6. Unfinished business—issues that weren’t decided at the last meeting but were postponed to this one.
  7. New business—the current issues to be discussed at the meeting.
  8. Entertain a motion—the Chair asks if anyone wants to discuss a certain issue.
  9. Make a motion (“I move that...”, or "I so move.")—a member of the meeting presents an issue to be discussed.
  10. Second a motion (“I second the motion”; or just “second.”)—another member agrees the issue should be discussed.
  11. Have the floor—a member is permitted to speak, after being “recognized” by the Chair.
  12. Table a motion—put the issue aside to talk about something more important before going back to the main issue.
  13. Vote “aye” (sounds like “eye”) meaning yes or “nay”—meaning no. Another way to say it is to “vote up or down” (yes or no respectively).
  14. Motion carried—the motion succeeded.
  15. Adjourn—to take a break during the meeting; or to end a meeting that happens regularly, so you’re actually “taking a break” until next month or even the next year, depending on when the next meeting will be held.

The topics of these meetings are, as a rule, very formal. But imagine a family using parliamentary procedure to decide what to have for dinner. It might sound funny, like this:

CHAIR: I call this family meeting to order. We’re here to decide what to have for dinner. If you have something to say, please raise your hand and wait until I recognize you to take the floor. Will Member 1 please read the minutes from the last meeting?
MEMBER 1: There are no minutes from the last meeting because I was at hockey practice.
CHAIR: Okay, let's move on to the Treasurer’s report.
TREASURER: We have $38.62 in the budget for tonight’s dinner.
CHAIR: The Chair will entertain a motion to adopt the Treasurer’s report.
MEMBER 1: I so move.
MEMBER 2: Second.
CHAIR: A motion has been made and seconded. All those in favor say “Aye”.
CHAIR: Any opposed? No? The motion carries. Now, the matter of what to have for dinner is open for discussion.
MEMBER 1: (raises hand)
CHAIR: The Chair recognizes Member 1. You have the floor.
MEMBER 1: I want macaroni and cheese.
MEMBER 2: I want pizza!
CHAIR: Member 2, please raise your hand and wait to be recognized before speaking.
MEMBER 2: (raises hand)
CHAIR: The Chair recognizes Member 2. You have the floor.
MEMBER 2: I want pizza. We had macaroni and cheese last night.
CHAIR: Further discussion?
MEMBER 1: (raises hand)
CHAIR: Member 1 has the floor.
MEMBER 1: I agree to pizza tonight if we can have macaroni and cheese again sometime later this week.
CHAIR: May I have a motion for tonight’s dinner menu?
MEMBER 2: I move that we have pizza!
MEMBER 1: Okay. I guess I’ll second the motion.
CHAIR: All those in favor, say “Aye”. All opposed, say “Nay.”
MEMBERS 1 & 2: “Aye.”
TREASURER: “Nay. I’m tired of pizza.”
CHAIR: The “Ayes” have it. We’ll eat pizza tonight. May I have a motion to adjourn this meeting so we can call the pizza place and order dinner?
MEMBER 1: I really want macaroni and cheese, but I’ll move to adjourn for pizza.
MEMBER 2: Second!!
CHAIR: This meeting is adjourned. Treasurer, please call and order our pizza.

Of course a family would not use this language, just as your typical informal meeting don't use it. But, if you did use it, that's what it would sound like!

If you can imagine a situation where this language is used, then try writing a dialog about it for homework.

drone on [phrasal verb]—to speak in a dull manner for a long time.
shouting match [noun phrase]—when people yell at each other to try to win an argument.
treasurer /TREZH-er-er/ [noun]—the person who keeps track of an organization's money.