Chairperson guidelines for oral sessions

The job of the chairperson is to make the session informative, interesting, and entertaining by facilitating excellent communication between the speakers and the audience. The following are guidelines for chairpersons to help make this happen. Information on technical support is provided in the Appendix.

Rule 1: Prepare yourself

Prepare yourself for the session and in particular for the discussion parts by reading the abstracts of the contributions beforehand. Thus, you will always be aware of what to expect during the flow of the session and be in a good position to steer a lively and interesting discussion. Science does progress more through interactions, criticism, and questioning than by just an assembly-line type of paper delivery.

Rule 2: Get to the venue early and make sure all facilities are working

Get to the venue well in time and make sure to know where everything is, like pointers, microphones, data projectors, and the computer/laptop, and introduce yourself to the assistant (see also Annex A about technical support)

Rule 3: Find out in advance whether all your speakers are present

In order to avoid the situation of suddenly having to fill a gap, try in advance to find out whether all your speakers are likely to be present:

  • You can check with the Copernicus staff at the registration desk whether they have registered.
  • Go through the uploaded presentations on the computer in the lecture room before the session starts and compare them with the published programme.

Rule 4: Let your speakers know the rules

A session will run more smoothly if you let all the speakers know how you plan to run your session. This could be done by gathering the speakers just before the session or even by email before the event. Reminding them how much time they have to speak, how much time to allow for questions, and how you will let them know time is up will avoid confusion later on. It may also be a good idea to inform the audience as a whole (but without impinging on the actual time for the presentations) on how you run the session, ensure the time keeping, and treat gaps.

Rule 5: Introduce yourself and the speakers

Introduce yourself and welcome the audience to the session. It is your job to excite people at the session and have them stay in the auditorium. Regarding the speakers, introduce each one before they begin, and provide their affiliation. Speakers love to be properly introduced and the audience likes to feel they know the person speaking. Remember, however, not to use the precious and limited time allowed to the speaker for her/his presentation.

Rule 6: Do not let things overrun: time schedule and programme gaps

Timing is important to ensure that a meeting runs smoothly. Timing is particularly acute in view of multiple parallel sessions as many participants would want to switch between talks in different sessions and attend selected presentations. Also, right timing should enable participants to leave the session at the adequate time for lunches, coffee breaks, transportation, etc.

Therefore, if a gap should occur in the time schedule and no stand-by paper is available to fill in, we ask conveners/chairpersons to be prepared for such an event by either

  • allowing discussions on the previous talks,
  • allowing general discussions on the item of the session and/or related topics,
  • foreseeing either a stand-in presentation,
  • or foreseeing short introductions to the posters related to the session (poster pitches) through one of the following options:

This involves the convenor/chairperson contacting all poster presenters in advance of the conference and inviting them to prepare a couple of sentences/ prepare a slide/ provide a slide/ indicate whether he/she is prepared to give a presentation as a stand-in option. The mail tool in your session online-system allows you to specifically address authors of poster presentations.

Rule 7: Communicate how much time is left to the speaker

Letting the speaker know their time is up is crucial in keeping time. The Limitimer (see the technical information in Annex A) will help to keep track for the speaker, for you and for the audience. You may also consider giving them a sign 3 minutes before the time is up. You may use a simple sign, held up at the right time (“3 minutes to go”). If the allotted time for the presentation is up, standing on the stage is a good sign that the speaker should wrap up. Having another sign saying “time is up” is also an option.

However, make sure you bring your own watch, so you can monitor time. If you do not know what time a speaker started, it is difficult to know when to ask them to stop. So always write down the start and finish times of speakers throughout the session.

Rule 8: Keep control of the Question and Answer sessions

It is difficult for the session chair to keep things on time if the speaker is in control of taking questions. Make sure you are the one who selects the next questioner. Also, be prepared to step in if the speaker and questioner are getting into a long-winded, technical discussion.

Rule 9: Prepare some questions in advance

A good scientific session is characterised by a lively question and answer session. It can take an audience a few seconds to digest the contents of a talk and think of questions. So, it is always good to have one or two ready to ask. These can be prepared beforehand from the abstracts and supplemented from ones that occur to you during the talk. This is a very good reason for paying attention during the talk. Also, it is worth thinking of one or two general purpose questions such as “What do you plan to do next?”

Rule 10: Time keeping is vital, so do not be afraid to move on without questions

Some speakers may expect to answer questions even after their allotted time is up. If you are running over time, you should not be afraid to move on to the next talk without questions. You will be more confident in enforcing this principle if you have warned the speaker beforehand that running over will require foregoing taking questions at that time. You can stay on schedule by diplomatically saying that “the speaker will be happy to take questions during the break”.

We hope these hints will help you as chairperson in this essential task for the conference; we thank you very much for your contributions, efforts, and preparations in the organisation and running of your session!

Many of the rules are taken or inspired by the following article: Ten Simple Rules for Chairing a Scientific Session by Bateman A., Bourne, P.E. (2009) Ten Simple Rules for Chairing a Scientific Session. PLoS Comput Biol 5(9): e1000517.doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000517. Copyright: © 2009 Bateman, Bourne. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Annex A: Some information on technical support during your session

Assistance and technical equipment: A technical assistant will be present in the lecture room. These assistants will help the chairperson and speakers, accept and show slides if necessary, and help install the presentation files on the lecture room notebook.
Get to the venue early and make sure to know where everything is, like pointers, microphones, projectors, and the computer/laptop, and introduce yourself to the assistant. He/she will be happy to explain all the settings to you, and will also know who to turn to if all goes wrong.

Upload of presentations: Each speaker is expected to upload his/her presentation onto the laptop in the lecture room before the start of the session. The assistant will be at the computer half an hour before the session starts and assist all speakers to upload the presentation and let them run through their slides to be sure everything is working properly.

Chairperson: Normally (one of) the convenor(s) who prepared the session is also chairing (part of) the session. Should this not be possible, speakers/authors may be nominated by the appropriate convener(s) or asked by the meeting organiser to act as chairperson of a particular sub-session. In order for the meeting organiser to maintain the quality of the scientific programme, it is essential that the chairpersons are aware of the tasks and how to lead a session and discussion.

Time allocation: All times allocated for presentations (normally 15 minutes) also include the time for discussions and change over. For a standard slot, this means that the presentation should finish after 12 minutes, thus leaving 3 minutes for discussions.

Limitimer: To help you keep the session on time, a Limitimer (a device that simulates a traffic light) is available in all lecture rooms; the assistant will work the device. For all lectures the same timing will be set: the green light is on from the start of the presentation for 9 minutes until 3 minutes before the time for the presentation is up; then yellow is on, meaning the lecturer has 3 minutes to finish and conclude. Then the light turns red and 3 minutes are available for questions and discussions. The Limitimer will also always show the time elapsed since the start of the presentation. Ensure that the Limitimer is clearly visible to the speaker.

Programme changes: Any programme changes received after the programme book that have been compiled ready for print will be included in the "Daily Programme": this revised session programme is shown outside of the corresponding lecture room well before the session starts. The mobile app will always show the up-to-date programme.
The chairperson will receive a printed copy of the revised programme from the assistant, and s/he is kindly asked to return it after the session. Any last minute modifications should be noted in these programmes by the chairperson (or the assistant if asked by the chairperson), as well the start and end time of each presentation.

Microphones: Chairpersons should ensure that the speaker is audible, i.e. check and correct the position of the microphone, especially for speakers with a low voice. A hand-held microphone will be available for the speaker in each lecture room.

Recording: Be aware and remind people that video-graphic recordings of presentations are not allowed, and that mobile phones must be switched off/in mute mode during the oral and poster sessions.