Session Chair and Panel Moderator Guidelines

Session Chairs and panel moderators are crucial to the success of the conference - they draw out themes and divergent points of view, they help to create an inclusive and equitable environment by modeling the behavior expectations outlined in the iPRES 2018 Code of Conduct and they ensure that the conference sessions run to schedule. 

The iPRES 2018 Organizing Committee has compiled this document to help sessions chairs and moderators prepare for their roles.

NOTE: A member of the Organizing Committee will be assigned to every session. The organizing committee member is present to assist the moderator in whatever way is most helpful. 


Defining Terms

  • SESSIONS consist of 1 or more presentations. Sessions are mostly grouped by theme, with the exception of some panels.
    • Ex. “Formats” is a 90 min session on Thursday morning consisting of 2 short papers and 1 panel. The paper presentations and the discussion panel all related in some way to the “Formats” theme.
  • PRESENTATIONS are individual papers or panels
  • PANELS are designated discussion panels lasting 30-45 minutes with 3 or more panelists per panel
  • SESSION CHAIRS are the individuals that agreed to be responsible for the structure, flow, timing and moderation of an entire session. SESSION CHAIRS are responsible for clearly communicating expectations and logistical information about the session; they may take a more or less active role in Q&A moderation, depending on the session.
  • PANEL MODERATORS are the individuals responsible for guiding the direction and flow of discussion panels. PANEL MODERATORS are responsible for preparing moderated discussion panel questions in collaboration with panelists, and ensuring that panelists are informed regarding the structure, flow and timing of the discussion panel.

Review Documentation

Please review the  iPRES2018 Code of Conduct for explicit expectations and processes for ensuring an inclusive and equitable conference experience for all attendees.

Session's Organizing Committee Member

There is at least one organizing committee member assigned to each session. The organizing committee member assigned to the session will contact the chair/moderator in advance of the conference to introduce themselves, and to coordinate any logistical details.

Communicate with Speakers

It is the responsibility of Session Chairs and Panel Moderators to communicate with speakers to make sure their session or panel runs smoothly. 

  • Organizing committee members will send each session moderator an email containing the list of speakers within their session. This list will include phone numbers and email addresses and the scheduled time for each presentation. 
  • Session Chairs are asked to contact their speakers no less than one month in advance in order to 
    • Introduce themselves
    • Inquire regarding special arrangements or accommodations 
    • Ask their speakers to double-check their bios or supply one 
    • Tell them to email with questions as they arise
  • Approximately one week prior to the meeting, session chairs and panel moderators should contact speakers within their session and request copies of their slide presentation. Session Chairs should have a copy of all session presentations as a backup.
  • Provide any additional documentation including: 

Arrive Early, Prep the Room

Session Chairs are responsible for making sure that room is prepared for the session. 

  • Arrive 20 minutes before the session begins. Request that speakers arrive no later than 15 minutes prior to the beginning of the session.
  • Introduce themselves to event/venue staff responsible for the session audio. 
  • Test the mics and the projector
    • In addition to their use by authors during paper and panel presentations, mics will be passed around the audience during Q&A. Make sure that the mic is removed from its stand.
  • Touch base with the organizing committee member assigned to the session. 
  • Assist the speakers with their presentation set-up.
  • Make sure that water is available for the speakers.

Panel Moderators are responsible for checking in with their Session Chair to ensure that the room is prepared for their panel.

  • Arrive 10 minutes before the session begins. Request that speakers arrive no later than 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the session.


Introduce the Theme and Speakers

Session Chairs and Panel Moderators are responsible for providing context to the audience. They should introduce themselves, give a brief statement about the theme of the sessions or topic of the panel, and introduce each of the speakers/presentations. 

  • (Suggested Maximum Time: 2 minutes) Brief statement about the theme of the session should help the audience to better understand the relationship of the topics addressed within the session - highlighting the theme also preps the audience to draw connections and ask questions they may not have thought to ask otherwise.
  • (Suggested Maximum Time: 5 minutes total (<2min per person)) Because biographical statements vary in length, longer ones should be paraphrased so that everyone receives the same amount of introduction. Introductions should be brief and at a minimum include:
    • Name
    • Role
    • Organizational Affiliation

Keeping Time

Tracking time is one of the Session Chair’s most important tasks. Timing for individual presentations is crucial to the success of the conference as a whole. 

  • For any given presentation in their session, they should know exactly when the preceding presentation ends and exactly when the succeeding presentation is scheduled to begin
  • For their session, know exactly when the preceding session ends and exactly when the succeeding session is scheduled to begin
  • If there are two or more speakers during a session, make sure to give them equal amounts of time to speak. Tell each presenter how much time they have, and then stick to it.
  • Make sure that their session ends on time.
  • Ask their speakers about preferred timing prompts - 15min, 10min, 5min, 1min
    • Timing signage will provided in each room by the organizing committee member.
  • Make sure to use a gentle alarm (stopwatch, cell phone alarm, etc) in case they are necessarily distracted by something that occurs in the session.
  • Because Session and Panel Moderators are also responsible for facilitating Q&A, each Moderator is responsible for finding someone to assist as timekeeper for the Q&A segment of the session. Session Moderators can serve as Timekeepers for Panel Moderators during panel Q&A.

Session v Panel Moderation

Paper Session

Paper sessions are a series of paper presentations so the Session Chair is primarily responsible for introduction to the theme, speaker introductions, timing and moderating audience Q&A. The greatest risk of paper sessions is the reduction of presentation time for the last paper. Long papers are 30 minutes, and short papers are 15 minutes - including Q&A. It is the moderator’s responsibility to make sure that everyone presenting the same type of paper in the same session receives equal time.

An example outline of a paper session:

  • Context/Theme Statement - Session Chair
  • Introduction of presentations/speakers in the session - Session Chair
  • First Paper
  • Second Paper
  • Third Paper
  • Q&A for all authors  - Session Chair

Audience Q&A is included in the total time allotted to each session. The Organizing Committee is not requiring a standard amount of audience Q&A, however, we expect that session chairs and speakers will determine set aside at least 5min per session (not per presentation) for audience Q&A. 

Discussion Panel

All iPRES 2018 panels are discussion panels. Discussion panels foreground the common experiences or approaches of the panelists through moderated Q&A. In some cases, there may be brief contextual overviews provided by members of the panel prior to moderated Q&A, however, these overviews must be limited to information that the audience needs in order to derive understanding and meaning from the moderated discussion that follows. 

When moderating a discussion panel, make sure everyone on the panel has a chance to speak. If someone’s not talking, it’s the moderator's job to draw them into the conversation. On the other hand, if someone is talking too much, it’s the moderator's job to give other panelists a chance to speak. An easy way to do that is to say something like “Thanks for that idea. What do the other panelists think?” And turn to someone else to give them a chance to speak. All panel moderators must know enough about the panel subject matter to pivot the conversation or ask follow up questions that solicit engagement from all panelists. 

For Panels, Session Chairs are not responsible for speaker/panelist introductions. Panel Moderators are responsible for speaker/panelist introductions. However, Session Chairs are still asked to provide a very brief introduction to the thematic grouping that brings these sessions together.

Panel Moderators are responsible for Introductions and Overview statements for their specific panel. 

An example outline of a session with a panel:

  • Context/Theme Statement - Session Chair
  • Panel Overview and Panelist Introductions - Panel Moderator
  • Panel Moderated Discussion - Panel Moderator + Panelists
  • Audience Q&A - Panel Moderator + Panelists
  • Introduction of next presentations/speakers in the session - Session Chair

Q&A Moderation

Prepping Questions

Get the conversation started quickly with well-prepared questions. Session Chairs should have 3-5 questions across presentations (in other words, 3-5 questions that address the overarching theme that each author can be asked to respond to) and at least 1 question for each individual paper.

Panel Moderators need to have a longer list of questions prepared, since moderated discussion is the panel format. Make sure that the questions follow a logical sequence that helps the audience to retain more of the information being shared. Try to have 1 or 2 questions prepared for each panelist, as a way to draw out their unique perspective and expertise. Always strive to provide a balance in your questions between featuring the individual and project work, their/its uniqueness AND drawing the parallels or common ground across all of the efforts represented by your panelists.

Facilitating Audience Q&A - General  

  • Before inviting questions from the audience (using the microphone provided by the event audio/visual staff), state important ground rules, such as: 
    • Request audience members raise hands if they questions, 
    • Please wait until a designated individual provides you with a microphone before sharing your question or comment
    • Remind whoever that is asking a question to identify themselves briefly (name and affiliation), 
    • All views are to be respected, however different.
  • Make sure to either repeat the question that was asked, or have the speaker do it. If the room is large, some people won’t hear the question, and sometimes the session is being recorded. It also helps make sure you get the question right.
  • As mentioned above in “Keeping Time,” make sure to designate a colleague to assist as timekeeper in the Q&A portion of the session. Make sure you know when there are 5, 3 and 1 min remaining so that you can indicate to the audience when there is only time for one more question.
  • Audience members with questions will be required to speak in to the mic. The chair/moderator will have to designate a volunteer, or the organizing committee member to pass the mic around the room for Q&A so that the moderator can track the timekeeper and be prepared to close the session.
  • Be prepared with a few opening questions (see “Prepping Questions” section above) to start discussion, if necessary. Ask audience members to identify themselves and make sure their questions are clearly heard by others at the session.   
  • Include questions from as many attendees as possible 
    • Consider recent research findings that indicate, “the gender of the first person to ask a question predicted the gender imbalance in subsequent questions, with proportionally fewer questions asked by women when a man was the first to ask a question.”

Concluding the Session

  • Thank speakers, timekeeper, other volunteers, and the audience
  • Tell the audience what is coming next (i.e., lunch break, next session in 15 minutes, etc).
  • Remind the audience how they can provide feedback for the session
  • Stick around to assist with any movement of chairs or transitional activity for subsequent sessions