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Session Chairs and Presenters Guidelines


The suggestions below are mainly for session chairs. Nevertheless, these suggestions are equally useful for presenters to prepare and present their presentations.

Session chair responsibilities are a confusing mix of several roles – Host, Coach, Discussion Facilitator, and Time Keeper. These roles are sometimes conflicting, but they are all very important:

  • Host: As the Host of the session, prior to the session it is your responsibility to ensure that there is at least one laptop available for the session’s presentations, get all the presentations on it prior to the start of the session (or know how you will switch laptops), and introduce the speakers to each other. When you are ready to start the session, you will make the audience feel welcome, introduce the session and explain how it will unfold. During the session you will introduce each speaker, facilitate discussion or Q&A periods and call the session to a close.

    As Host, it is your responsibility to decide on the best approach for structuring your session. This year, most (but not all) of our 1½ hour sessions include four papers to be presented. It is up to you to decide (a) how much time should be set aside for discussion and (b) how much time will be allocated to each paper. If your session is made up of closely related papers, you might want to set aside 20 minutes for discussion and require the presenters to present in 15 minutes. On the other hand, if your papers are more diverse, you might want to give each presenter 20 minutes to present, and quit 5 minutes early, so the audience can ask their questions of the individual presenters in small groups. Be aware that even if sessions start late, they FINISH ON TIME.

    Finally, as Host, it is up to you to decide how time will be managed – what the rules will be. For example, if the first presenter goes over his or her time limit, will this time come out of the time for discussion or is it extracted evenly from each of the remaining presenters? Establish your rules up front and make sure each speaker knows how the time is going to be managed during your session. The last speaker, in particular, needs to know what to expect.

  • Coach: As Coach, it is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the papers being presented in your session, to explain to your presenters (AS SOON AS POSSIBLE) what your plan is for the session (e.g., how much time they will have to present, and how time will be managed), and to tell them what you expect from them. For many empirical studies, the following 5-slide outline works surprisingly well for a 15 minute talk:

    • The practical and theoretical problems being addressed
    • The theoretical underpinnings of the work (to orient the audience)
    • Their research notion/idea (e.g., model, hypotheses, questions)
    • Just enough on methods so that the audience can tell whether the study was quantitative, qualitative or analytical.
    • Findings/results/contribution

    Finally, ask the presenters to be IN THE ROOM at least 15 minutes before the session starts. You will need to get your laptop connected to the projector and all the presentations loaded. You may need to adjust the timing of the session. You need to make sure everyone meets everyone, especially the Time Keeper. You may need to go over the timing rules again. These things take longer than you would expect, especially when everyone wants to schmooze.

  • Discussion Facilitator: Our sessions will not have discussants. Nevertheless, as Session Chair, you can ensure that whatever time you do allocate to discussion is well managed. For example, it is helpful if you ask the author to repeat questions that are posed from the audience, if you think others might not have heard the question (this also has the salubrious effect of causing questioners to be concise). You can also help by scanning the room for hands held up in the back that the speaker does not see. You can ask questions of your own to shift the audience’s attention from one author to another. And, of course, you will be the person everyone looks to for the signal that the session is concluded.

  • As Time Keeper, it is your responsibility to make sure that the time in the session is shared fairly among speakers, and between speakers and audience. We HIGHLY recommend that you appoint a Time Keeper for your session who will follow whatever rules you set. A good Time Keeper will be armed with a set of 8x11 signs that say “5,” “2,” “0” and “-1”. The Time Keeper should be positioned in front of the speaker and should keep time assiduously, adjusting the deadlines for each new presenter (according to the rules you set). The Host should keep an eye on the Time Keeper, too, of course, and be prepared to stand up and ask a presenter to yield the podium to the next speaker, if and when necessary.