HEAnet National Networking Conference 2003
Kilkenny, 6th-7th November 2003
Guidelines for Session Chairs
Aim of Document: This document aims to provide some guidelines for session chairs at IUISC 2001. Obviously chairing a session is something which partially depends on the "personal touch" of the chairperson; however there are a few guidelines and pieces of advice that the Conference Committee would like to share.
Before the Session
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 and time of their presentation and that they bring any special requirements, for example AV requirements to the attention of the conference organisers.
It is assumed that the session chairperson is familiar with the topic of the session in general, and with the content of the presentations in particular If you notice that two of your speakers look in danger of covering the same or very similar issues, please contact them as soon as possible so they have the opportunity to tailor their presentations slightly to avoid repetition.
Meet Your Speakers
Arrange to meet your speakers early in the conference, try and get them involved with other appropriate sessions. Make sure that they are familiar with the resources available. If your speakers are not part of the IUISC community, you should then ensure that they are looked after in the hotel.
Although the overall time allocation and order of the speakers have already been defined in the Conference Programme, it can be very helpful to spend some time preparing the format of the session. For example, to think about a general introduction to the session and/or each speaker, to decide whether questions will be taken after each presentation, or after all presentations have been made, etc.
During the Session
Introduction to the Session
There should be an initial phase of 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 initial opening of the session by the chairperson should not evolve into an unscheduled invited talk, but should introduce the framework for the following speakers. This is also a good opportunity to present the format of the session, for example whether questions will be taken at the end or after each presentation.
Introducing the Speakers
Speakers were asked to supply short biographies about themselves, and these are included in conference papers. If you don't think there is enough information, or if one of your speakers has not provided an autobiography, ask them to give you a note with the relevant curriculum vitae material so that you can introduce them properly. 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 scribbled in a hurry), however, this can be tailored to requirements, for example if the speakers prefer to introduce themselves. If the presentation has been co-authored it may be advisable to mention the names of the co-authors as well. In general, make the introduction short and accurate, so that the speaker doesn't have to correct you during his or her presentation.
Time Allocation and Control
This is the most difficult task, since speakers tend to forget about time as soon as they have the floor. There are numerous techniques for time control, for example cue cards with 10-, 5-, 2- and minute countdown or 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 as he or she will either look at the audience or stare into their notes. As a last resort you may have to speak up and remind the speaker that he or she is running out of time. If there is no sign of the speaker drawing their presentation to a close you should interrupt at least 2-3 minutes before their allocated speaking time is over in order to give them a chance to wind up their presentation. Keep in mind that each time slot usually includes a few minutes for discussion. This time is the session chair's buffer space. If a speaker has 20 minutes presentation time and 10 minutes planned for questions and answers, it may be OK to let the speaker continue talking for 22 or 23 minutes, as soon as you realise that he or she will finish within that limit. However, if a speaker crosses the 25-minute mark, he or she should be notified.
Usually taking questions in a certain order is the task of the speaker, but you may have to start by announcing that the floor is now open for discussion. It is also a good idea to ask members of the audience asking a question to give their name and affiliation. If there are no questions, which often happens for a variety of reasons, it is face preserving for the speaker (and the audience) if the session chair has one or two questions to ask, but in general questions from the audience should have preference. If there are just a few questions, don't artificially extend the session, but go on to the next speaker or wind up the session. If there are too many questions or the questions are too difficult to understand or answer you may step in and remind the audience that such specific issues can be discussed after the session. Sometimes, even questions from the audience can turn into small presentations. It is your responsibility to keep this under control, and to interrupt the question if necessary.
Closing the Session
It is good practice for the session chair to sum up the session after the last presentation, instead of letting the speakers and the audience discover that the session is over because the session chair is leaving the stage. A few sentences summarising the content of the session, a final acknowledgement of all the speakers and the audience (for their participation), and probably an announcement of the next sessions are a good way to conclude a session.
After the Session
There is really not much for the session chair to do after the session, but it's good practice to contact each of the speakers before they leave the room to thank them for their efforts.
Summary - 10 Tips
1. Make Contact - contact your speakers before the conference to answer any questions they may have and to make sure they know when and where their presentation will take place.
2. Be Prepared - familiarise yourself with the general topic of the session and read abstracts (and full papers if they are available) to familiarise 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.
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 any problems or special requirements to the attention of the conference organisers.
4. Think and Plan - plan the general format of your session, think about how to introduce the speakers and whether questions will be taken at the end of the session or after each presentation.
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 - monitor the timing of each speaker closely, speak up and remind them they have only 2-3 minutes of speaking-time left if they show no sign of concluding their presentation. Remember to leave enough time for questions.
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.
10. The End - before they leave the room, thank each of the speakers for their contribution.
Acknowledgements: This document is largely based on the TERENA document "Guideline for JENC8 Session Chairs" which was produced by Hannes Lubich, the Programme Committee Chairman of the JENC8 conference, which was held in 1997.