Robert’s Rules of Order are a set of proceedings used to organize a discussion in legislative bodies or companies, ensuring debate is conducted in a civil and productive way.

The rules were developed originally in 1876 by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert. Based on parliamentary procedure at the time, they have been revised, adapted, and simplified many times over more than a century, and continue to provide guidance for assemblies, committees, and board meetings everywhere.

If you need to get a quick grasp of the rules, fear not — we’ve prepared a handy Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet that should get you sorted in a pinch.

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Basic Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet

Robert’s Rules of Order revolve around a few core principles, which include:

  • Parliamentary structure. Debates follow an established structure that dictates how motions or proposals are put forward, considered, and approved or rejected.
  • Majority rule. Decisions are taken following majority approval, unless otherwise stated in the company’s bylaws.
  • Rights of the minority. Minorities have guaranteed rights, including the right to be heard and to make motions.
  • Fairness and civility. The rules help set the stage for a fair and polite debate, keeping tempers and disagreement in check.

Types of motions

A Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet for executive session will usually cover six types of motions:

  • Main motion. A new item is introduced to the discussion.
  • Subsidiary motion. A motion is put forward to change or regulate the discussion on the main motion.
  • Privileged motion. This kind of motion is used when special and pressing matters take precedence over the motion currently under discussion.
  • Incidental motion. These are motions that arise during the course of a meeting and can include a point of order, parliamentary inquiry, or request for information.
  • Motion to table. This type requests to end a motion.
  • Motion to postpone. This one requests to delay the consideration of voting on a motion.

The chairperson’s role

A Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet for chair should help ensure the chairperson understands their basic responsibilities and how to conduct the meeting. When presiding over the proceedings, the chairperson should:

  • Ensure proceedings are conducted with order and fairness
  • Be impartial and refrain from expressing personal opinions or taking sides
  • Recognize members who wish to speak, maintaining order and meeting etiquette
  • Ensure the rules and procedures for motions and votes are followed

The chair should also summarize and restate motions made, ensuring the debate is kept relevant to the motion at hand, being adept at conflict resolution, and knowing when to call for a vote. 

Why the cheat sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order is required

Depending on your level of experience with board meetings, it can be very helpful to have Robert’s Rules of Order for small boards cheat sheet handy. The cheat sheet will help you steer the debate and motions without overlooking any important steps, even if you get nervous and accidentally forget the procedures.

How Robert’s Rules of Order meeting cheat sheet can prevent mistakes

Left unorganized, most meetings will soon turn into fruitless arguments. This is why, by having Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet for nonprofits or for-profits, you can make sure the right motions are taken and everyone’s time is put to good use.

Common mistakes that occur during meetings include:

  • Omitting motions. Debates started without a motion are hard to regulate and cannot be properly registered in meeting minutes or executive session minutes.
  • Getting lost in irrelevant discussions. If the chair fails to maintain discipline, board members can easily veer off into personal arguments or debates that miss the point in question.
  • Not allowing everyone to speak. Some members are naturally timider, while others are boisterous and assertive. The chairperson should display proper leadership and moderation, making sure everyone is heard.
  • Failure to follow proper voting procedures. Robert’s Rules of Order voting cheat sheet provides guidance on how to conduct a vote, including the use of voice votes, show of hands, or ballot votes, as well as the kind of majority required for the vote to pass.

Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet board meeting use cases

In the flow of an intense board meeting, it’s easy for even an experienced president to lose the thread of the discussion and allow things to get out of hand. This is why the chair will often find it helpful to implement a cheat sheet both when preparing the agenda for the meeting and during the actual meeting discussions.

Executives new to the role of the chair who plan to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of order find it helpful to have a cheat sheet for different meetings, such as a small meeting to discuss minor matters and key meetings with voting on major issues.

How to create your own Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet

A cheat sheet should encapsulate everything you need to know in order to successfully perform your role in a meeting. It should also contain all the main steps you and other board members will be required to go through, so you can both familiarize yourself with the procedure beforehand and have a reminder handy even at the 11th hour.

Key components of a cheat sheet

Typical elements to include in your cheat sheet would be as follows.

  • The order of business. This outlines the typical agenda for a meeting, including the call to order, approval of board minutes, reports from officers and committees, old and new business, and adjournment.
  • Motions. It’s important to include a list of common motions and how to go about making them.
  • Debate and discussion. The guidelines for participating in debates, including the rules for speaking, time limits, and the requirements for yielding the floor or making a point of order are essential.
  • Voting procedures. Your cheat sheet can also outline which types of voting may be used, reconsideration of previous votes, and majority requirements (simple majority, a two-thirds majority, etc.)

Tips for creating an effective cheat sheet

It’s worth keeping a few things in mind as you go about creating your cheat sheet. 

  • Keep it clear. Don’t overstuff your cheat sheet with too much information — add only essential items and easily recognizable information.
  • Keep it visual. You want to build a document that’s instantly helpful, where you won’t spend time looking for a given item. Where appropriate, employ a table format such as the one in the section below.
  • Keep it simple. Use simple and direct language in the present tense.
  • Use prompts. Whether you use a table format, a flow chart, or any other kind of graphic, use prompts to create a memorable and easy-to-grasp scheme. Things like: “I say this”, “Consider item X”, “Can they interrupt? Yes, no”. 
  • Leverage technology. Use a board meeting template to easily prepare your meeting agendas around the topics to debate.

Examples of what to include in a Robert’s Rules cheat sheet

These and other motions can be included in your meeting motion cheat sheet as a way to help you efficiently and speedily navigate any kind of situation that comes up during your meetings. 

Remember not to just copy and paste a cheat sheet from the internet. You should rather adapt it according to your company’s unique aspects — that can include going over the company’s bylaws to understand whether they dictate any special procedures or conditions for committee and board meetings.

The bottom line

Whether in political or business debate, in parliaments or board meetings, Robert’s Rules of Order continue to be applied for a good reason: this is an essential way to keep debates organized, clean, and productive.

While you may not have had to acquaint yourself with these rules before, we hope the above tips on how to create your own Rules of Order cheat sheet will see you through your next meetings. 

That said, you should not rely on them alone. If you’ve been selected as chair of a board or committee or simply want to understand how to properly act in a non-leadership role, pick up the latest edition of this classic book — Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

You can also greatly increase the effectiveness of your meetings through the proper use of board portals. iDeals, the top choice among the many options available, will help steer you through planning your agenda, collecting votes, writing meeting minutes, and a lot more.

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Do I need to have a cheat sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order if I’m not the chairperson of a meeting?

The cheat sheet is not as important if you’re not acting in the capacity of the chairperson or planning to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order. That said, it can be very helpful to have a cheat sheet if you’re not yet familiar with the correct proceedings, including the types of motions and the principles of debate.

Can I customize my Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet to fit my specific meeting needs?

Absolutely. In fact, as mentioned above, a good cheat sheet should certainly take your company’s specific needs and conditions into consideration. It may be a good idea to create your own cheat sheets in Excel following a board meeting agenda template, and then fill out and/or add fields as per your requirements.

Are there any digital tools or apps available for creating a cheat sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order?

Yes. Among other software for board management, board portals will help you create and organize Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet, as well as facilitate agenda setting, voting procedures, and the preparation and distribution of meeting minutes.

Is Robert’s Rules of Order used in online meetings?

Definitely! Virtual board meetings benefit from proper, structured discussions of the issues at hand just as much as in-person meetings. In fact, the Rules of Order are even more important given the additional difficulties to communication that the internet sometimes brings.

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Jesus Rivas Marketing strategist
Jesus Rivas is an accomplished marketing strategist with a strong focus on the niche of board portals. With over 8 years of experience in the industry, he has honed his skills in creating effective marketing strategies that help organizations achieve their goals.

Jesus develops and executes marketing strategies, approves content plans, conducts marketing research, and coordinates content creators. His extensive knowledge of board portals and their objectives has been pivotal to the platform's success, enabling her to attract and retain a loyal user base.
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