The chair of any panel or roundtable at a conference has a number of important tasks. The chair must introduce the panel, the speakers, keep time, and ensure an orderly question and answer session. The chair is also usually responsible for providing some concluding comments for the panel.
As The Guardian's Higher Education Network suggests, doing these tasks brilliantly can be accomplished though adhering to a 6-point checklist. An excellent chair should be: Organized, Inclusive, Selfless, Attentive, Firm, and Positive.
In many ways, these different points come back to the chair's ability to keep good time during their session.
We all have our pet peeves during conferences. Mine is when panelists go well over their allotted time! When a speaker goes over their time, it means that everyone else -- panelists and audience -- has less time to share their ideas and questions. In effect, it means that the panel will not be as inclusive as one that gives everyone time to share their ideas, comments, and questions. It is up to the chair to be firm about how much time a speaker may take. When I have chaired, this is a conversation that I begin over email leading up to the conference, helping to ensure that everyone presenting is on the same page.
We also lose time during a session when we struggle with technology. As chair, make sure that you have a good understanding of how to work the AV equipment your panelists will need, who to contact in case it doesn't work, and take the time to load all presentations before the session begins. (A note to presenters: When everyone's PowerPoint Presentation is labelled some variation of ConferenceNameDate, it can be tricky to find the right presentation even when it is pre-loaded. Why not label your presentation some variation of YourNameConferenceNameDate?)
As the Research Whisperer has noted, "Conferences are a necessary and fun part of academia. The more professional consideration and support that’s spread around at them, the better!" So, use these tips and check out our recent posts on abstracts, posters, and moderation to help make your panel the talk of the conference... in a good way.
Quick links and further reading:
- If you are new to conferencing and chairing, you might want to check out this informative FAQ from the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association.
- The Research Whisperer's How to Chair is also a useful guide, especially regarding Q&A moderation.
- How to be a brilliant conference chair (Guardian, Higher Education Network), including such useful advice as "don’t yawn or shoehorn in your own research. And for goodness sake, get speakers’ names right"
- Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters (anthro everywhere! 5 October 2017)
- Conferencing: Tips for Moderators (anthro everywhere! 12 October 2017)