How to Chair a Symposium

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Maintained by Harry E. Pence, Professor of Chemistry, SUNY Oneonta, for the use of his students. Any opinions are totally coincidental and have no official endorsement, including the people who sign my pay checks. Comments and suggestions are welcome (

Last Revised June 22, 1998

Thank you for agreeing to chair, and also possibly, to organize a symposium. The task of chairing a symposium is not particularly difficult, but there are several issues that you must keep in mind.

1. The session chair is responsible for controlling the environment, that means the lights, heat, and a ny technology needed, ranging from overheads and slides to computer presentations. It is a good idea to check the room well in advance to make sure that the expected facilities are available. If not, find out where the local audiovisual support center is located, and check to make sure that everything will be in place by the time of your session.

2. If the presenters are going to be using technology, it is often helpful to arrange a trial session in the room some time prior to the scheduled present ation. If most of the presenters are going to be using technology, the current wisdom is that you need two people to chair the session, so that there is always someone available to go for help.

3. If possible, try to meet as many as possible of your presenters before the session. If you have a question about pronouncing their names, the title of the talk, or the name of their institutional affiliation, ask early. It can be quite embarrassing to for both you and the speaker if you pronounce somethi ng wrong. Aother way to sometimes get this information is to check with other presenters who are there early. If all this fails, muddle through with confidence, and apologize if it seems to be necessary.

4. Please follow the schedule closely. Many conferenceattendees try to move between sessions, and they become very angry when a talk is not held at the scheduled time. Cutting off a long-winded speaker can be very touchy, but try to be as firm as possible.Warn all the speakers that you will stand i n place five minutes before time has expired; you will verbally remind them when two minutes remains; and you will not hesitate to cut them off when time has run out. Try to allow time for questions, but be warned that some speakers will intentionally use up the discussion time to prevent this. Some experienced presiders choose to use a timer with a obvious chime or tone to enforce the schedule.

5. For each paper, announce the speaker's name, affiliation, and the title of the talk. If you have not made contact with a speaker in advance, and if no one responds to your announcement, repeat this information at least three times before you decide that the speaker is not present. (It sounds stupid, but I have been to presentations where the presenter wasn't aware that he was next???) If a speaker is absent, either allow a continuation of the discussion of the previous paper or announce an intermission until the next scheduled paper. Remember that the ACS Bylaws, and the rules of most conferences, do not a llow the presentation of any paper unless it is listed in the program. Substitutions are not permitted! (Of course, there are always exceptions. I remember a session where a Nobel Prize winning Chemistry arrived with a full tray of slides and gave a 30 minute, unscheduled lecture. Thank heavens I wasn't presiding that time!) In short, use your common sense!

6. Once you have announced a speaker, your responsibility is not over until the speaker is firmly under way. You may need to attach a microphone to the speaker's lapel, start the slide projector, remove an overhead that is blocking the slide screen, and any other housekeeping chores that are appropriate. If a pointer is available, offer to show the speaker how to use it. If the speaker cannot be heard at the back of the room, politely suggest that he/she speak louder. Do whatever you can to make the talk successful.

7. At the end of the presentation, stand and lead applause. (The audience will look to you to determine when to applaud! Custo m varies on applause; the most important thing is to serve every speaker the same way. If in doubt, do it the way I describe!) If there is time for questions, announce that this paper is open for discussion. Be prepared to ask the first question, if necessary. Keep track of the time, and don't be afraid to cut off the questions when time runs out. When you finish the question period, lead another round of applause for the completed talk, and then announce the next speaker. It is NOT normally necessary to ap plaud when a speaker is introduced.

8. At the end of the presentations, express thanks to the participants and the audience and lead a round of applause for the presenters.

9. Good luck! If you see anything that I have left out, let me know and I'll try to add it for the next person.

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