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What Does It Mean to "Have the Floor"?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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To "have the floor" means that someone has the right to speak at some sort of formal event or gathering. The phrase is an English idiom which has expanded from the original meaning referencing formal meetings to the point where it is used in everyday speech. It can be used whenever a group of people are having a conversation and someone needs the attention of the whole group. As a matter of fact, "have the floor" is often used as a rebuke to anyone who might be interrupting the speech of another person at an inopportune moment.

When someone uses a word or phrase that has a meaning somewhat different than the literal definitions of the words included, that person is using an idiom. Idioms get their meanings not so much from the words themselves but from the way that they are used and understood by the culture in which they originated. They allow for speakers to be colorful and familiar to their listeners at the same time. One idiomatic expression that has grown from formal origins to be used on daily occasions is the phrase "have the floor."

In the setting of a formal meeting, there may be certain circumstances that require a number of different speakers to address the people gathered. Such situations call for some decorum and structure so that the meetings don't devolve into unorganized chaos with many people speaking all at once. The group in charge of meeting usually decides who gets to speak and when, and they are the ones likely to use this phrase. A leader of the meeting might say something like, "We've heard from the two opposing candidates; Senator, you now have the floor."

People became familiar with the use of this phrase in formal settings and thus began to use it more familiarly among acquaintances in their daily lives. It can now be used as a way of saying that someone has the right to speak at any given moment. For example, someone might say, "Now that you've spoken your peace about this topic, allow me to have the floor."

At times, this idiom may be invoked if someone is constantly interrupting the speech of others. When used in this manner, it lets the person doing the interrupting know that this behavior is not to be tolerated. In this context, someone might say, "You've been sticking your comments into this conversation all night long, but now it's my turn to have the floor."

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.

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Discussion Comments
By Saraq90 — On Oct 15, 2011

I think some people are meant to “have the floor”, while others are not; in a public and/or professional setting at least. That is why some people make it a point to live a life that gives them access to “have the floor”, and others are happy having a life where they do not “have the floor”, at least not in a public, crowded setting. A person not sure of what profession to go into, can fine-tune their search some by figuring out if they like to and are good at “having the floor.” To be a politician, teacher, motivational speaker, you must have to be good at “having the floor.” While to be a scientist, engineer, landscaper you probably do not have to be as good at “having the floor.”

I am glad that I have respectful friends that “give me the floor”, and wait their turn to “have the floor”. I think it is so disrespectful when people keep “taking the floor” away from others; everyone should have a chance to “have the floor”, to speak their opinion without interruptions and disruptions. I think it is important to teach children from a small age about listening and not interrupting when someone else “has the floor”, and also that they should be treated with the same respect when it is their turn to “have the floor.”

By aLFredo — On Oct 14, 2011

One thing I do not miss about being in school, especially in high school and college, is basically being made to “have the floor.” I know with some people, they get more comfortable and confident once they do something a few times, but this was not the case for me, at least in the aspect of “having the floor.”

We had quite a few projects where we had to “have the floor”, but I never did get comfortable standing in front of my classmates’ and speaking about whatever subject I had to speak about. I remember that I would basically be filled with fear and anxiety from the moment I learned I had to give a speech or presentation, and these negative feelings would sometimes last until the day after my presentation and/or speech.

Teachers would get so upset when classmates would be disrespectful and not give me “the floor”, but I just wanted to get my speech over with, so it bothered me more to have to stop to wait for the classmate’s to be respectful than it did to have my classmates be disrespectful and not “give me the floor.” Now that I am out of the situation and older/more mature though, I see why it is and was so important to emphasize respect.

By runner101 — On Oct 14, 2011

When I hear this saying I think mostly about political debates or interviews. I don't even know if I have heard this saying in this context, but it seems these interviews and debates are always full of people who do not want to "share the floor" so the interviewer or person holding the debate has to assert so one or the other that they need to let the other person have a turn once in a while.

I know a lot of people who would hate it if they had to "have the floor" and speak in front of people. In fact I used to be one of those people. And then I was in graduate school and we were constantly giving speeches and presentations and it helped to be in front of classmates, but in the end it carried over to strangers as well.

Now whenever we have something to share to the entire company at work, my department nominates me because they know I don't mind. I am not the most eloquent speaker but I am working on that - so that I will get better with each time I "have the floor"!

By wavy58 — On Oct 14, 2011

When a schoolteacher tells you that you may have the floor, it’s generally not a good thing. I once got called up to the front of the room for whispering with my friend while the teacher was talking.

He had been somewhat patient with me. My conversation with my friend went on for about ten minutes before he told me that since I loved to talk so much, I could have the floor.

He wanted me to stand up in front of everyone and either tell him what he had just finished teaching or share with them what my friend and I had been discussing. I was mortified, because we had been talking about my crush, and I wasn’t about to reveal that. Also, I hadn’t heard a word he had said while I was whispering, so I just apologized profusely.

By seag47 — On Oct 13, 2011

At our annual awards banquet, we always have two speakers. The first is the manager of the whole company, who is a bit boring when he talks. His speech lacks life and flavor.

The second speaker is my supervisor, and everyone always cheers after the manager says, “Bill, you now have the floor.” He cracks us up with his humor, and we look forward to what he will say each year.

When the manager has the floor, he gives out the serious awards, so everyone is respectful. When the supervisor takes the floor, he hands out the funny awards, like “Most Likely to Spill Coffee.” Everyone has a good time then, and we each get to have the floor as we receive our awards.

By Oceana — On Oct 12, 2011

When I have the floor and all eyes are on me, I tend to get tongue-tied and fumble around in my speech, searching for accurate words to convey my meaning. I have discovered that it helps a lot to have a projection screen and visual aids, because then, people have something else to look at besides me.

Visual aids also remind me of things I might have forgotten in my anxiety. Questions from those who don’t have the floor yet also help me regain my composure and talk about what I know.

If it were up to me, I would never want to have the floor at work. I’m just not cut out for that kind of attention.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 12, 2011

@icecream17 - The funny thing is that once you tell a talkative, disruptive person that they can have the floor, they tend to shut up. When they are put on the spot, they get flustered and can’t form their thoughts.

Once I was trying to give a presentation at work, but one of my coworkers kept interjecting his comments about what all was wrong with my strategy. Embarrassed and angry, I finally told him he could have the floor, since he had ruined my presentation.

He suddenly turned red in the face and went silent. He had no more to say. Without me up there to taunt and serve as a target, he had no valid ideas to communicate.

By icecream17 — On Oct 12, 2011

I think that a lot of people get frustrated when they are with someone that incessantly talks and does not let you get a word in edgewise. In this situation, it leaves the silent person with the urge to have the floor in order to be able to make their point across.

There are some people that just like to hear themselves talk and unfortunately it may be difficult to make your point across with them. I notice that people like this also interrupt a lot, so even when you do have the floor they don’t give you the undivided attention that you had to give them.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
Learn more
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