Business Session

The Basics of a Business Session

Mention the words "business session" to most Toastmasters and you will often see them shudder at the thought of fifteen minutes of total confusion and bedlam. Some even see it as a "necessary evil" of being part of the Toastmasters programme. If this sounds like you, then  The Basics of a Business Session, will teach you enough so that you can effectively participate in and eventually run a business session.

Well, what is a business session?

The business session is that part of the Toastmasters agenda where the club's executive makes reports to the members and gives them an opportunity to participate in the decision making process.

Toastmasters, like many other organisations has adopted a set of rules for the conduct of business sessions, known as meeting procedure (or parliamentary procedure in the United States). These rules, which have evolved over many years, may seem complicated and unnecessary but they actually provide a fair and logical process for reaching agreement on particular issues amongst large groups of people.

The primary vehicle for making decisions in a business session is the motion. A motion is defined as 'a proposed resolution'. During the course of a business session members put forward motions and the members vote for or against the motions.

There are two kinds of motions – substantive motions and procedural motions.

Substantive motions affect the club forever whilst procedural motions only affect the running of the current meeting. An example of a substantive motion is to change the starting time of the meeting. If this motion is carried then the club will be bound to the new starting time forever (or until such time as another motion is passed to change it again). An example of a procedural motion is to extend the business session by five minutes. Note that only financial members may vote on substantive motions while anyone present (including guests) may vote on procedural motions.

The rules for the wording of motions are that it:

  1. Must commence with "that"
  2. Must be specific
  3. Must be unambiguous
  4. Must not be worded in the first person
  5. Must be in one sentence
  6. May be in parts
  7. May incorporate an explanation
  8. May be in the negative

An example of a motion that conforms to these rules is "that the starting time of the meetings of the Dynamic Northshore Toastmasters club be changed to 7:15PM".

There are eight steps for handling a motion. They are :

1.         Gain Attention

The person who wants to move a motion somehow gains the chairman's attention. This is usually done by standing at your seat and waiting for the chairman to recognise you.

2.         Recognition

The chairman recognises the mover of the motion, by example, by saying their name e.g. "Yes, Mr Smith." Note that for some procedural motions, for example where you may want to shut the speaker up, you may interrupt the current speaker in mid-sentence.

3.         Move and Explain

The mover justifies/explains their motion and then moves their motion. If the motion is complex the mover should give it to the chairman in writing. Note that the chairman cannot move motions.

4.         Second and Speak

The chairman then asks, "is there a seconder for this motion?". This confirms that there is someone else who is interested in debating this subject. If there is no seconder then the motion lapses and the meeting moves onto the next item of business. At this point the seconder can speak on the motion or they can reserve their right to speak later. If the seconder  does not reserve their right to speak later then they have lost their chance to speak on the motion. Note that the seconder DOES NOT have to agree or vote for the motion.

5.         Speak Against

            The chairman then calls for someone to speak against the motion.

6.         Speak For

The chairman then calls for someone else to speak for the motion. The chairman keeps asking for alternating speakers to speak for or against the motion until their is no one left who wants to speak on the motion. No member, except the mover, may speak more than once on the motion.

7.         Right of Reply

At this point the chairman invites the mover of the motion to sum up his argument and speak again on the motion (the mover is the only person who may speak twice).

8.         Vote

The chairman then reads out the motion "that …." and then says "all those in favour say aye", waits for a response, and then "all those against say no". The chairman then says "I think that the ayes/nos have it. I declare the motion carried/lost". If there is any confusion about who won the vote then the chairman should ask for a show of hands and get the sergeant atarms to count the votes.

During the debate of a motion some members may come to the conclusion that they do not like the motion as it stands, and want to change it. To do so, they can move an AMENDMENT to the motion. Rules for the wording of amendments are the same as those for motions. One important thing to remember is that the amendment should improve the motion, and never contradict it.

For example, if a motion was before a meeting "that the starting time of the meetings of the Dynamic Northshore Toastmasters club be changed to 7:15PM" someone might think that 7:15 is still too early and move the amendment that "that the words 7:15PM be replaced with 7:30PM".

The steps for processing a motion with an amendment are :

Member moves and explains motion


Another seconds and speaks or reserves


debate motion


            |                                                           another moves amendment & explains

            |                                                                                   |

            |                                                           another seconds and speaks or reserves

            |                                                                                   |

            |                                                                       debate amendment

            |                                                                                   |

            |                                                           seconder's reserved speech

            |                                                                                   |

            |                                                                       vote on amendment


            NO                                                                              YES

            |                                                                                   |

debate motion                                                               debate amended motion

            |                                                                                   |

seconder's reserved speech                                           original motion mover's right of reply

            |                                                                                   |

mover's right of reply                                                                vote




The chairman should remind the members that when they are voting on the amendment that they are NOT voting on the original motion.

Note that while there can only be one substantive motion before the chair at any time there can be a substantive motion and a procedural motion before the chair at the same time. If a procedural motion is moved, then the meeting moves on to process the procedural motion, in much the same way as you process an amendment. When the debate on the procedural motion is finished then the meeting goes back to the original motion.

There are three categories of procedural motions.

  1. Motions disposing of business in a permanent fashion
  2. Motions disposing of business in a temporary fashion
  3. Other procedural motions

To permanently dispose of the motion before the chair you can

use :

  • "that the question now be put" – stop discussion right now and vote or   
  • "that the meeting proceed to the next business" – drop this motion and move on.
  •  To temporarily dispose of the motion before the chair you can use :
  • "that this matter be referred to a committee"  or
  • "that the debate be adjourned" – go have a break  or    
  • "that the meeting now adjourn" – close the meeting & discuss it at a future meeting

There are many other procedural motions that can be moved to change the running of the meeting.

Some that you may be interested in are :

  • "that the business session be extended for another x minutes"
  • "that the speaker be no longer heard"    – stop the current speakernow
  • "that the speaker be heard for another x minutes" – the speaker must stop in x minutes.

Now that you have an understanding of HOW to be a chairman, the following section tells you WHAT you have to do.

The first thing you should do, when you see that you have been assigned to be the chairman, is check whether there will be a business session or not (a business session is held once every third meeting). If there is a business session then follow this guide.


TWO WEEKS TO GO: Pull out these notes and re-read them. If possible find a copy of the book  'Guide for Meetings', 5th Edition, by N.E. Renton. This book is the official "rule book" for meeting procedure and is available from most book shops or District 70 for about $23. Read up on the areas that you don't feel comfortable with.

THREE DAYS TO GO: Ring everyone on the agenda outside of the manual speeches section and confirm their attendance (you have to do this regardless of whether there is a business session or not). Ring the President and ask which members of the executive will be presenting reports. Ask if there are any motions on notice which you should know about.

THE DAY BEFORE: Write out the outline of the stages of the business session and add in any comments / reminders for yourself. Practice the motions which need to be moved at each stage.

ON THE NIGHT: Arrive early. Sit at the "head" table. Confirm who will be presenting reports. Follow the outline on the following page. You may wish to photocopy this page and keep it with you on the night.

 Business Session Agenda

1.         Open

  • introduce yourself and welcome everyone,
  • declare the business session open,
  • announce how you wish to be addressed (Mr/Madam. Chairman),
  • explain voting rights,
  • check if a quorum exists (50% of active members + 1). If a quorum does not exist then you cannot pass any substantive motions.

2.         Apologies       

  • ask for apologies for non-attendance,
  • have someone move that the apologies be accepted,
  • ask for apologies for non-attendance at future meetings,
  • have someone move that the apologies be accepted. 

3.         Minutes

  • give the members a minute or two to read the minutes of the previous  business session,
  • ask if there any amendments. Write the amendments on your copy,
  • have someone move that the "minutes [as amended] be confirmed",
  • sign your copy of the previous minutes and pass them to the secretary for filing.

4.         Business arising from minutes


5.         Correspondence

  • ask the secretary to summarise the incoming correspondence,
  • have someone move "that the incoming correspondence be received",
  • ask the secretary to summarise the outgoing correspondence,
  • have someone move "that the outgoing correspondence be endorsed".

6.         Business arising from correspondence

7.         Reports          

  • ask the members of the executive who have prepared reports to present them. Never say "does the …. have a report". You should already know,
  • if the report involves action to be taken have the presenter move "that my report be adopted",
  • if the report is written but only information have the presenter move "that the report be received",
  • if the report is only verbal then no motion is required.

8.         Motions on Notice

  • process any motions on notice that you are aware of.

9.         General Business

  • invite announcements, comments etc. from the members.
  • Do not let anyone speak for too long on a topic where they are trying to persuade people without moving a motion.

10.       Close

  • Close the business session and announce the date of the next business meeting.
  • Remember that when you are the chairman, you should be fair yet firm. Don't be too bossy but don't get eaten by the sharks. If you sense that you are losing control of the meeting hit the gavel to restore order, and try to determine where you are up to. Feel free to consult the President/VPE who should be sitting near you.
  • Above all, remember that there is no substitute for a thorough understanding of the rules of a business session and plenty of practice.

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