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Session Chair Guide

Guidelines for Chairing a Session at CUG Meetings

The following guidelines for chairing sessions at CUG meetings are provided to ensure a smooth running conference.  They are the result of years of experience in listening to the common complaints from CUG attendees.  An attentive, well-prepared Session Chair can help ensure that the speakers give high quality, trouble-free talks and that the audience appreciates the entire session.

In the unlikely event that one of your speakers cancels at the very last minute, you might have available a short talk of your own to help maintain the continuity of the session.  You may choose to fill that time with an alternate discussion topic with those in the room but you should keep to the published schedule.  When a speaker drops out after the schedule is published, and attendees have made plans as to which talks to attend, a disruption caused by an empty slot can snowball across different tracks and disappoint people who really wanted to see your second speaker.  So, rearranging the order of presenters should not be done lightly without consideration for the effect on attendees.

Recognize that you are the leader of the session. You are the one everyone will turn to if there are problems among your speakers or within your audience.  Thank you for agreeing to assume high responsibility.  Much of the success of the conference will rest on the efficient and consistent execution of our technical presentation sessions.  As important as running the session well is the critical ear.  If you pick up on something that causes a stir or is particularly controversial, jot it down and make a point of informing someone from the Program Committee, the Board of Directors, or the SIG Chairs as appropriate.  Feedback is an essential aspect of this program.

Prior to Your Session

  • Meet with the support staff from the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) prior to your session to review the workings of the lights, the AV equipment, and good positions for your speakers in your session's room. It is a good idea to make sure a laser pointer is available. You should have students from the LAC available to help in the event of problems.
  • Meet with all your speakers 15 minutes before the start of your session. At that time, make needed introductions and help them feel comfortable with the room arrangements and fellow participants. Discuss their positions at the podium and remind them of their time limitations. Have all your speakers try out their laptops, slides, and the microphone to determine any required assistance and to ensure a reasonable comfort level.
  • Describe to your speakers the method you will use to notify them when they are nearing their presentation time limit and how you will interrupt them if they have reached the end of their allotted time.  Try to leave time for pertinent questions and answers (especially if the talk is particularly inspiring or controversial).  If however, all time has expired for that speaker, it is acceptable to ask the audience to discuss issues with that speaker after the end of the session. It is up to you as the Session Chair to ensure that ALL speakers receive their allotted time and that the audience has opportunity for their questions and comments.
  • Cray and the CUG Board want to promote audience feedback whenever Cray speakers are presenting products, directions, and methodologies. It is, therefore, important to have these speakers honor at least a minimum 5-minute question/answer/comment period.
  • Inform your speakers of the exact time that each of their talks are to begin, and remind them that attendees are free to get up and move to another session after each talk. Two or three minutes should be allocated for this anticipated movement of people from session to session. Further explain that because of this expected movement, it is particularly important for each talk to finish on time AND for the next speaker to begin at the appropriate time (even if the previous speaker ends early). You can help facilitate a smooth change between speakers by asking the next speaker to begin moving toward the front and even switching laptops while the questions and answer session unfolds.
  • Ensure you have a sheet from the CUG Office to record session attendance.

When Your Session Begins

  • Concern yourself with the environment - check sound and lights. If there are problems, either a Local Arrangements Committee staff member can assist or you can send someone to the CUG Office for assistance. Directly ask members of the audience if they can see you and hear you clearly. Your audience will appreciate that you are in charge and concerned about them and the quality of the session.
  • Using the microphone, formally announce the beginning of the session. If needed, politely encourage the audience to settle into their seats and conclude their conversations.
  • Introduce yourself as Session Chair and give your affiliation.
  • For each talk, introduce the speaker; give their affiliation and the title of their talk. It is nice to give a brief introduction of the speaker -- perhaps their background, or how their talk fits into the scheme of the session or conference. You may wish to use the published abstract as a starting point for this "introduction" material.
  • Ensure that you or students from the LAC are recording attendance for each talk, this is important as it helps guide content for the following year's program.

During Each Presentation

  • It is up to you as the Session Chair to assist your speakers if there are problems. If the speaker's voice is fading, bring water. If the speaker's presentation is not displaying well, help adjust the equipment. If lights need to be dimmed, either do it yourself or ask someone else to do it. If the speaker cannot be heard or cannot be seen, you should politely try to correct the situation.
  • You must keep track of elapsed time during a presentation:
    • At 20 minutes of a 30-minute talk, give a *signal* to the speaker (could be card raised, or low voice). Adjust as necessary for longer presentations.
    • At 25 minutes of a 30-minute talk, *interrupt* the speaker (this could done by standing up, or actually stating "It is time to conclude").
  • Question/Answer Period: If time permits, the Session Chair should invite questions if the speaker does not do this.
    • An excellent Session Chair will have at least one general question ready for each speaker in order to help get the discussion off the ground, should the audience be reticent.
    • A really excellent Session Chair will actually ask each speaker for a potential "seed" question for you to ask should the opportunity be available!
    • When questions are asked, make every effort to get a microphone to the questioner (more important for the large general sessions than for the parallel sessions). If this is not possible, remind the speaker to repeat the questions, or repeat the question yourself if you are in a better position to hear the question.
  • As the allotted time for the speaker's talk ends, initiate applause for the speaker.

At the End of the Session

  • When the last speaker's presentation and questions/answers have concluded, THANK the audience for attending and state that your session is now completed.
  • If the next item in the schedule is a break/lunch session, invite the audience to attend, and recognise the sponsor 
  • Remind attendees to go to the online evaluation system shortly before leaving the conference and complete their evaluations. The link is listed in the program and the pocket schedule.

Thus endith your duties as Session Chair!  Bathe in the gratitude and admiration of your CUG Board of Directors for a job well done.  CUG is vital only through your volunteerism and participation.  Thank you again for your help.

(revised March 12, 2012)

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