Session Chair Guidelines

Table of Contents

  1. Background
  2. Common Issues with RE Paper Sessions
  3. Before the Conference
  4. Prepare yourself
  5. First Contact
  6. Advertise your Session
  7. At the Conference
  8. Meet your Speakers
  9. Continue Advertising your Session
  10. During your Session
  11. Audience First
  12. Repeat questions
  13. Timebox Q&A
  14. Be creative
  15. After your Session
  16. Maintain discussions and pace
  17. Debrief
  18. Summarise

Background

Session Chairs are recruited for their RE knowledge and expertise, so it makes sense for them to be more than just time-keepers. We regard Session Chairs as integral members of the RE community, people who can make others feel welcome at the RE conference, help participants to meet new contacts, and obviously add extra value to the paper sessions themselves.

Common Issues with RE Paper Sessions
  1. People are not sure which session to attend each day.
  2. Some presentations have room for improvements: the PowerPoint is bad, the speakers are nervous, the audience starts to fidget, etc.
  3. Some presenters don’t manage time.
  4. People can’t hear the questions asked of speakers.
  5. People use the Q&A session to waffle off-topic for too long. Others don’t dare to ask the good questions they have.
  6. There is no real opportunity for a constructive discussion in the paper sessions, while attendees do have things to say.
  7. You gave a presentation, listened to a presentation, or participated in something. What’s next?

Before the Conference

Prepare yourself

Read the papers that will be in your session and jot down a couple of questions you could ask of each author to trigger a Q&A session if needed. Also, try to think of a question or comment that could unify all the papers in the session. This means that you can sit back and enjoy the session more during the actual conference.

First Contact

Please contact the authors of your session papers before the conference and find out who will be presenting. Invite presenters to a meet-up during the conference, for example at breakfast or coffee before your session. The goal is to ensure that each author who is presenting at the conference has a contact point other than the Program Chair or Industry Chair. This is especially important for anyone who is new to the RE community, as we hope to make them feel less nervous and more welcome and provide them with a friendly face to meet them if they know no one else.

Please be aware that you are now the main RE contact point for our conference speakers, so be sure to do what is needed to make them feel comfortable.

Offer to go through the authors’ presentations before the conference and provide feedback to make the presentation as good as possible. You may also suggest possible discussion points to the authors. There are guidelines for preparing a presentation available on the conference homepage. Please recommend that your authors examine this material when preparing their presentation.

Use your favourite social media (including talking to people tête-a-tête) to advertise your session and the papers in it. If you use twitter, please include @ieee_re and use the hashag #RE16 in your tweet.

The authors in your session share your interest in marketing the session. Discuss the presentations with all of the authors and recruit them to help you with the advertising. Together you will be able to reach more people. Moreover, the authors have an increased value of marketing their paper in the context of all the other great papers in your session.

At the Conference

Meet your Speakers

As described above, you should have a meet-up planned with your speakers. Use this moment to communicate the protocol. Tell the presenters how you plan to run the session. For example, request that they do not introduce themselves again after you have already done so. You can also tell them about the time constraints, how you will run the Q&A, and what you plan to do if you sense the presentation needs speeding up, slowing down or something. Tell them you might be a bit more interactive than what they have seen in other conferences, but that is for the good of the presentation and is never something personal. Tell them you are a team dedicated to provide the best “show” to the audience, and will work that way.

Ensure that the conference organizers have their slides. Make sure you have the most recent version as well (as a backup).

Help to calm any nerves and try to make everyone relax and enjoy themselves.

Make sure that you, and all your speakers, know where your session will be. There are many rooms, and they all look confusingly similar.

Continue Advertising your Session

Talk to people, try to get them to come to your session since it is obviously going to be the best one at the conference.

During your Session

Being a Session Chair is an active role and a good Session Chair will somehow make the best out of what they have available. If you find yourself losing focus on the speaker, it is likely that the audience is having problems too, so plan to do something if this begins to happen. Don’t be scared to interject if you think it is needed. Think of ways you can liven things up or help the presenter along (they may be quietly dying and appreciate a friendly helping hand. We have all been there!). This is why meeting with your presenters and telling them a bit about how you would like to run the session and what you could do to help them is so important. So:

Audience First

While you strive to be the advocate for your session topic and its presenters, your number one responsibility during the session is to the audience. Interject (nicely and professionally, perhaps with a question) and change the tempo if you see it is needed. You are a smart and valued member of the RE community and not just a time-keeper.

Repeat questions

Ensure that either you or the presenter repeats any question that is asked by the audience. Even if you think the question was loud, clear and that everyone heard it: repeat it and/or rephrase it, because they didn’t. This is the number one complaint about Q&A at conferences. The fix is trivial, so please ensure to do it and make it standard practice. Also, it gives the presenter a moment to pause and think which will hopefully lead to a more considered response.

Timebox Q&A

If something has not been asked or answered succinctly, find a way to move things along. It is your job to deal with anyone that uses the opportunity to make statements and/or peddle their own ideas and work.

Be creative

New and old technologies exist to facilitate Q&A sessions such that they deliver more. It’s a pity that everybody noted down something and may have really good questions that there will not be time to ask and discuss during your session. You may, for example, collect further questions on paper at the end of the session and continue the Q&A outside your session. Or, you may encourage the audience to use Twitter to send questions during the presentation. You can then select among these questions during the in-session Q&A.

After your Session

It can be devastating for someone to give a conference presentation and to feel that it went really badly (which it may have, but it may also just be the presenter’s perception). Provide support and encouragement to avoid disillusionment – we want them to return to the RE conference. Constructive feedback on the presentation may help the speaker to do a better presentation next time.

Maintain discussions and pace

Invite speakers and audience to continue the discussions over lunch or in the afternoon. That way you give people time to find their next session (and vacate the room) while keeping the discussions alive.

Debrief

Don’t run out of the door as soon as the session is over. Take a few moments (5-10 minutes) to pass on a bit of feedback to the speakers and to make them feel positive. Simple rules to give actionable feedback include:

  • Ask people how they think it went.
  • Tell them what they did well and how they could improve other things until next time.

Summarise

We would like to have a trace of your session. So we will ask you to summarize what was said, and how the session augmented what you already knew before the conference, when you described the session. Send this to us after your session, and we will add this on the website along with your initial description.

Original material collected by David Callele and Martin Mahaux.