Signing ceremony and Memorandum of Understanding

Photo by Werner Pfennig (via

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is the formal version of a gentlemen’s agreement. It is a non-binding 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 ceremony –  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 that everything required is on the table: flags, name cards, documents and working pens. Once the signing ceremony starts, help from a protocol officer is needed again:

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

Source: Protocol to Manage Relationships Today (Amsterdam University Press, 2020) 

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