Most meetings, whether at a town hall, place of business or school, follow an agenda or order of business. The agenda is simply the order in which items will be presented, discussed and acted upon. Many organizations use Robert's Rules of Order, which is a standard in parliamentary or meeting procedures, to set the structure for their meetings. Following introductions and reports, the bulk of most discussions center on topics from previous meetings as well as new issues and ideas.

Old Business

The term old business is sometimes used interchangeably with unfinished business. However, old business is actually inaccurate and misleading. By definition, anything previously discussed in a business meeting -- possibly even several months or years ago -- could be referred to as "old." However, the appropriate term to use in meeting agendas is "unfinished business" when particular issues from previous meetings were not handled or disposed. For example, if a topic is discussed during a meeting and no conclusions or votes are taken, the topic should be held and automatically added to the next meeting's agenda.

There are two reasons why an issue may need to be included on a subsequent agenda. Perhaps more information is needed on the subject in order to make an informed decision. At this point an employee or group member might be assigned action items or topics to research with the idea of reporting their findings at the next meeting. Another reason a topic might be classified as unfinished businesses is that meeting time may have run out and the group was unable to discuss the item. If that happens, the item is simply moved to the next meeting so it can be dealt with later.

According to Robert's Rules of Order, the chair or leader of the meeting should never ask the group if there is any unfinished business. This information should already be known and recorded from the most previous meeting and the secretary should have automatically included it on the present agenda.

New Business

As it states, new business items are issues that have not been previously discussed or acted upon within the group. They could consist of announcements, proposals or plans for future endeavors. During this portion of the meeting, planned topics may be formally listed on the agenda or spontaneously mentioned by members of the group. If any item is discussed during this section of the meeting and no decisions are reached or if it is decided to table a motion made on the business at hand, the item is then carried over into the next meeting agenda and becomes classified as unfinished.