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). The chair also ensures that final papers are submitted to the discussant before the conference. The chair is also the primary contact for presenters, in case of absences or general questions.
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.
- 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 before the session. The feedback given does not need to highlight a "best" paper. Instead, the discussant should give each of the papers positive feedback and constructive criticisms.