Tips for session chairs & discussants

Session chairs and discussants play an important role in conferences. They ensure that sessions run smoothly, highlight scholarship, and encourage discussion. A well run session can often lead to scholarly discussion outside the conference.


The primary role of the session chair is to communicate with presenters. This includes ensuring that before the conference, presenters are aware that their submissions have been accepted and of the structure of the session (i.e. time limits). In coordination with the heads of the section or working group, the chair also ensures that final papers are submitted to the discussant before the conference. The chair is usually the primary contact for presenters, in case of absences or general questions, althouugh this information must be shared with the heads so they can make adjustments in the programme.

At the conference, the chair facilitates the session. This includes introducing the panel and the individual presenters. One important task during the session for a chair is to keep time. Allowing presenters or the discussant more time than what is allotted is disrespectful to the other presenters and to the audience, as this cuts into the time for Q&A. During the Q&A, the chair should facilitate the discussion.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Make time-keeping signs beforehand. Make them large and clear - this will ensure that presenters see them.
  • Chairs should try to keep a speakers' list during the Q&A if possible. It is good to allow some free discussion, but it is important to ensure that different points are addressed during the session. It is possible for people to continue conversations after the session.
  • It is important that chairs remember to mention and thank the sponsoring Section or Working Group and to encourage session participants to attend other similar sessions and social events sponsored by the same group(s).


Discussants speak briefly after all of the presenters. During this time (7-10 minutes), the discussant should critically engage with the papers presented and if possible connect them together through the theme of the session. The discussant provides constructive feedback to presenters, and raises questions to be explored during the Q&A.

The discussant should read all the papers or abstracts before the session. The feedback given does not need to highlight the "best" presentation. Instead, the discussant should give each of the presentations/papers positive feedback and constructive criticisms.

The pages in this section of the website contain some resources for IAMCR participants and for heads of sections and working groups as they prepare for the conference.

  • Session Types at IAMCR Conferences describes the two main types of sessions (Paper Presentation Session and Basic Panel Session) as well as a number of alternative session types that heads or participants might want to employ.
  • Submission Review describes the different types of review processes used by IAMCR's sections and working groups as well as the criteria that are most often used to evaluate proposals.
  • Guidelines for Presenters provides some suggested guidelines for scholars presenting papers at IAMCR conferences. These are suggested guidelines intended to be helpful on a voluntary basis; they are not strict rules and practices may vary among the various sections and working groups.
  • Tips for Session Chairs & Discussants offers ideas for how session chairs and discussants can ensure that sessions run smoothly, highlight scholarship, and encourage discussion.