You have the floor

William Shakespeare wrote that life is a stage, and each one of us has a part to play there.

Theatre – with its language of metaphor – affects areas of language even in fields that are not immediately connected to the arts.

The expressions for business meetings and government meetings can be one such area.

Just as companies’ and governments’ “performances” get written about in newspaper articles…
…so the vocabulary for parliamentary-type meetings pays homage to a theatre stage.

Taking the floor

“Mr Thomson, you have the floor.”

In a formal meeting, the person speaking has “the floor”. Only one person has the floor at a time.

It would not make sense if more than one person had the floor at once, because if several people were speaking at once, it would be impossible to follow everything people said.
This explains the creation of a series of expressions of parliamentary procedure called Robert’s Rules of Order. Whilst Robert’s Rules of Order came to be because a certain faction of the army needed a clear procedure for meetings in order to know who could speak when, it’s interesting to note just how many of them contain language related to the stage.

A way to remember this is that a stage is a floor (or, at the very least, has a floor.) As such, the person who has the floor has the stage.

It would be rude to interrupt a performer speaking on stage.

How do you get the stage?

You ask the chair.

The chair and the recognition of the chair

In the context of a company, we may think of the chair as the woman or man representing the company; the chair in a business meeting may also be the person leading that meeting. The chair calls the meeting to order at the start; that is to say, the chair tells everyone when the meeting has formally begun, so from then onwards only one person should speak at a time.

A way to remember this is to think of a panel discussion where there are several speakers facing an audience.

The chair of the discussion – that is to say, moderator of the discussion – often sits in the middle of the panel.

As such, the person sitting on the most prominent chair (“chair” meaning piece of furniture) has control over who can speak. When the chairperson wants a particular person to speak, the chairperson recognises this person, saying:

“the chair recognises [Mrs Fernandez.] [Mrs Fernandez] you have the floor.”

Of course, in many meetings, there is no audience, and everyone is an active participant.

Time to table

Items on a meeting agenda such as discussion points… are considered to be points “on the table”.

This piece of furniture also gets used another way: Whilst a successful meeting may result in productive discussion and an agreement on the steps to take… a meeting where there is unresolved discussion may see these issues being tabled.

To “table” a meeting or a particular meeting item is to save it for a further meeting, because it cannot be resolved for the moment.

That future meeting will see participants “revisit” these items… though whether that is as enjoyable as a visit to the theatre remains to be seen.

There are many other expressions in Robert’s Rules of Order, of course, from the making of and recognising of motions, to seconding these, to votes where the ayes have it… to votes where the no’s have it.

Perhaps the resemblance of some meetings to theatre is a discussion point worth revisiting…

Would you like to get practice recognising these terms? Try this quiz: