|Suggestions for Session Chairs|
Goals for the Session Chair
1. Initially engage the audience’s interest in the session topic.
2. Help presenters establish their credibility with the audience.
3. Make sure that the session runs smoothly.
4. Maintain the civility of the debates and dialogue.
5. Help presenters and audience feel that the session was worth the time they invested in it.
Before the Session
AFS will provide, in every meeting room, the following equipment ONLY: an LCD projector, a screen, a remote control, and cabling for recent PCs and Macs.
AFS will also provide sound systems in the larger
meeting rooms. Some rooms are small
enough not to require sound systems. AFS takes care to assign those who request audio to appropriate rooms.
It has always been AFS policy NOT to provide computers for presentations. Presenters using AV materials will need to provide a laptop, or bring their AV materials on another device, such as an iPod, that does not require a laptop and can connect directly to the projector. In many cases, these arrangements are best worked out at the session level. We strongly encourage you to:
a. Contact your panelists about their audio-visual needs NOW.
b. Make plans to consolidate all audio-visual materials for the session that will require a laptop to one presenter’s laptop (and possibly to a backup).
c. If at all possible, have presenters using CDs or DVDs send those disks before the meeting to the presenter whose laptop will be used in the session, so that they can be tested on that laptop for compatibility issues.
d. Make certain that you have a suitable adapter to hook the laptop to the projector, particularly if you will be using a Mac.
Contact Your Speakers
Before the conference contact your speakers to ask
them if they have any questions about their presentation. Make sure your
speakers know the date, time, and place of their presentation. Confirm that
they have brought any special requirements to the attention of the conference
organizers. Ask them to give you a short biography with the relevant background
material so that you can introduce them properly. We also suggest that you
encourage your presenters to share copies of their papers with one another
before the meeting. If you don't have contact information for each member of the panel, contact Associate Director Lorraine Walsh Cashman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As chair, you should be familiar with the topic of the session in general, and with the content of the presentations in particular. Although the overall time allocation and the order of the speakers have already been defined in the annual meeting program book, it is very helpful to spend some time planning the format of the session; e.g., creating a general introduction to the session and of each speaker.
Meet Your Speakers
If at all possible, and especially if you do not know them, please arrange to meet your speakers early in the conference.
During the Session
Introducing the Session
Effective session chairs most often begin by making contact with the audience to get everyone's attention and to introduce the audience to the topic(s) that will be addressed in the session. Don't assume that everyone is familiar with the topic already. The chair’s opening remarks should not devolve into an unscheduled invited talk, but should simply introduce the framework for the following speakers. This is also a good opportunity to present the format of the session; for example, that—following current AFS practice—questions will be taken after each presentation rather than at the end of the session.
Introducing the Speakers
Introductions help create the audience’s first impressions about a speaker and can make them more interested in hearing what she has to say. This is particularly true if the speaker is relatively unknown (someone from another field, a newcomer to the AFS meeting, a student). Be accurate and respectful in your introduction. If you know the presenter and have something nice to say about her, say it. Tell the audience something about the presenter’s expertise, interests, or accomplishments. These things will help establish speakers’ credibility with the audience, and make the session more enjoyable to both the audience and presenter alike. You can do this best if you have gathered the relevant biographical information prior to the conference.
Immediately prior to session, confirm with each
speaker the accuracy of the information you will be using to introduce them and
the correct pronunciation of their names. Ask if they prefer to be introduced
using their formal name or by a familiar name (e.g., Deborah or Deb, Samuel or
Sam). The minimum introduction to a presentation should be a mention of the
title and a few words about the speaker read from the information provided
(beware of difficulties reading hand-written notes you or they may well have
scribbled in a hurry). If the presentation has been co-authored, you should
mention the name(s) of the absent co-author(s) as well.
Time Allocation and Control
For panels (sessions comprising the presentation of papers):
At AFS meetings, we allot 30 minutes to each paper, including, in theory, 20 minutes for each paper and 10 minutes for discussion immediately following the paper. Keeping speakers to this limit is the most difficult task, since all of us tend to forget about time as soon as we have the floor. There are numerous techniques for time control, including cue cards with 10-, 5-, 2- and minute countdowns and a session timer, but never rely on the speaker to have eye contact with you on a regular basis to determine how much speaking time is left: most speakers will either look at the audience or focus on their notes.
As a last resort, you may have to speak up and remind the speaker that she is running out of time. If there is no sign of the speaker drawing her presentation to a close, you should interrupt at least 2-3 minutes before her allocated speaking time is over in order to give her a chance to wind up her presentation.
As just mentioned, we allot 30 minutes for each paper presentation, including time for discussion immediately after each presentation. After each presenter has concluded her paper, announce that the floor is now open for discussion of the paper for X minutes (X is the difference between 30 minutes and the time it took for the presenter to give her paper).
For forums (sessions comprising informal oral presentations and discussion):
Forums are intended to be run much more flexibly than panels, which are broken into definite 30-minute periods. If you are chairing a forum, you are free to structure your two hours in whatever way you think is best for your participants, your audiences, and the subjects of your session. (It is, however, usually a good idea for you to make clear at the beginning of the session what that structure will be.) In the program book, we list forum participants in alphabetical order; you may order their oral presentations in any way you like.
Please ask members of the audience asking a question to give their names and affiliations. If there are no questions (which often is the case), you may help the speakers and the audience save face by having one or two questions to ask, but in general, questions from the audience should have preference. If there are too many questions or the questions are too difficult to understand or answer, you may step in and remind the audience of the time limit, and that such specific issues can be discussed after the session. If time remains at the very end of the session, you may decide to return to these questions.
Closing the Session
It is good practice for the session chair to sum up the session after the last presentation. You may wish, for instance, to speak a few sentences summarizing the content of the session, acknowledging all the speakers and the audience (for their participation), and announcing the next session, if any, on the same or a similar topic. You’ll most likely need to be very brief here.
After the Session
There is not much for the session chair to do after the session, but it is a good practice to thank each of the speakers before they leave the room.
Summary - 10 Tips for Chairing a Successful Session
1. Make Contact - Contact your speakers before the conference to work out AV arrangements, to make sure they know when and where their presentation will take place, and to answer any questions they may have.
2. Be Prepared - Familiarize yourself with the general topic of the session and read abstracts (and full papers if they are available) to familiarize yourself with the content of the individual presentations. If you think two speakers are in danger of covering the same issues contact them in advance to give them an opportunity to tailor their presentations. Consolidate AV presentations on one laptop, and bring an adapter to hook the laptop to the projector.
3. Face-to-Face - Arrange to meet your speakers at the conference venue to ensure they know the time and venue of their presentation, and that they bring problems or special requirements to the attention of the conference organizers.
4. Think and Plan - Plan the general format of your session and think about how best to introduce the speakers.
5. Introduce Session - Get the attention of the audience, introduce the topic of the session, and present the format of the session.
6. Introduce the Speakers - Prepare some information to introduce each of the speakers. Keep the introductions short and accurate.
7. Timing - Remember that there are only 30 minutes available for each presentation and discussion of it, so encourage your speakers to leave enough time for discussion at the end of their presentations. Monitor the timing of your speakers, and be clear and forthright about keeping them to the limit.
8. Discussion - Have a few questions ready in case the audience doesn't. If questions are too long or complicated, interrupt and suggest that the issue is discussed after the session.
9. Closing - Conclude the session with a short summary of the content of the session, acknowledge the speakers, and announce the next sessions, if any, on related topics.
10. The End – After the session ends, thank the speakers for their contributions before they leave the room.
This summary was adapted with permission from the HEAnet National Networking Conference 2003 Guidelines for Session Chairs (www.heanet.ie/conferences/2003/guidelineschairs.htm), which in turn was based on the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association’s document Guideline for JENC8 Session Chairs, produced by Hannes Lubich.
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