The role of Panel/Session Chairs

How to be a Panel Chair

  • There is no need to introduce yourself or anyone else at length, unless they are special invited guests from outside academia. At most, say people’s names and institutional affiliations. Let them introduce their papers themselves.
  • Start the Panel/Session on time wherever possible.
  • Let the presenters speak in the order of the programme unless they request differently – for technical reasons, for example.
  • Keep each presenter to time. This is the most important part of the role of the Chair. Allow the final third of the session for questions and divide the remaining time evenly between the numbers of panellists. If one person goes over, they are eating directly out of the time of the other panellists, and that isn’t fair. Give people a subtle warning when they are close to time (a raised eyebrow may suffice, otherwise passing them a piece of paper saying ´2 minutes´ in big letters will do the trick). Pass them another note saying ´please conclude´ or similar once they are out of time. If they don’t stop, you will need to be bold and ask them out loud to wrap up. Even if they are much more senior than you, it is your professional obligation as well as theirs to keep to time, and people will respect you more for being strict than being weak.
  • Once all papers have been given, take questions from the audience. If there are lots of questions, try to avoid asking any yourself, but try to think of some just in case the audience take a while to warm up (or go silent very quickly).
  • If any of the audience goes off on a lengthy tangent, you may need to interrupt them to refocus the discussion.
  • Make sure the session finishes on time. People want their cup of coffee/toilet break, etc. and they can always continue the debate over coffee if they care that much.
  • Always end the session by inviting the audience to thank the presenters (round of applause).
Adopted by courtesy of organisers ECPR.

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