Signing ceremony; the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding

Photo by Werner Pfennig (via

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is the formal version of a gentlemen agreement. It is a nonbinding agreement that states the intention of the parties to take action, conduct a business transaction, or form a new partnership. A MOU is legally the same as a letter of intent.

A MOU is the agreement on paper to work together in the near future; a signing ceremony is a symbolic way to express the good friendship between the signing parties. Signing ceremonies are meant to openly communicate the intentions in the MOU. Pictures are taken of this moment, to show to others.

Signing ceremonies are a symbolic way to openly express the good friendship between the signing parties

At signing ceremonies, a MOU is signed by all parties. There is a copy of the MOU for each party and all signatures are needed on each document.

Those signing will be seated behind a table; the seating order is determined by the precedence (rank). The highest-ranking person in the middle, the second one to their right (as seen from sitting behind the table) and the third to the left. In case of two parties signing, the right side is first and the left side second.

It is common to work with (table) flags at signing ceremonies, especially when dealing with countries. It is also advisable to put name cards on the table, so there can be no misunderstanding about who sits where.

Before the signing ceremony starts, a protocol officer makes sure the table has all it needs: flags,name cards, documents and well-working pens. Once the signing ceremony starts, again help from a protocol officer is needed:

  1. To seat all those involved in the right seat (and behind it).
  2. To signal that the signing can start.
  3. To make sure the documents are exchanged to be signed by the other party.
  4. And to make sure a good picture can be taken.

Want to know more? Follow our online self-guided training about signing ceremonies. Source: Protocol to Manage Relationships Today (Amsterdam University Press, 2020)