At BSHS Annual Conferences, Chairs of sessions play an important role in helping to ensure that each conference session runs smoothly and to time, and that it is a productive and positive experience for all participants, in line with the values and aims of the BSHS.
In summary, your role as Chair is to: (i) introduce the speakers, and ensure that they have an equal opportunity to present their work (ii) ensure that the speakers’ requests regarding photography and tweeting of their presentation are respected (iii) manage the Q&A or discussion portion of the session, and ensure that all participants are treated respectfully and equitably (iv) make any announcements requested by the BSHS (v) inform the conference desk and/or AV support of any technical problems as soon as possible.
In advance of the session
Please arrive at the session room several minutes before the session starts, in order to meet with your speakers, check that they have loaded their slide presentations (if any) onto the room laptop or PC, and confirm with them (i) how they would like to be introduced (ii) whether they have any special requirements or requests, e.g. a request that photographs of their slides not be taken during their presentation.
The room should contain (i) a set of ‘traffic light’ cards for use during the speaker’s presentations (ii) guidance on the projection equipment and how to report any technical problems.
At the start of the session
Please identify yourself at the start of the session, identify the session by its title, and announce any unavoidable changes to the advertised schedule for the session (due, for example, to the absence of a speaker) or special features of the session. These may include if, in an organised panel, questions will be taken after each speaker or at the end of the session or both, and how long, in a roundtable discussion, each panellist has been asked to speak for.
Introducing the speakers
Please check with the speakers how they wish to be introduced, but also try to make sure that your introductions are equitable: if you introduce one speaker by title, name, and institution, you should probably introduce all speakers that way. Do try to keep your introductions brief.
During the speakers’ presentations
In a standard session, or an organised panel, your most important job during the presentations is to keep each speaker to the time allotted to them. Please use the ‘traffic light’ cards supplied for this purpose. You may also need to act if (i) the session suffers from any kind of disruption or technical difficult that affects the ability of the speakers to present or (ii) it becomes apparent that speakers’ wishes regarding photography and social media reporting are not being respected.
Questions, comments, and discussion
As Chair, your job is also to manage the question and discussion period. When this happens will depend upon the type of session you are chairing and what has been decided and advertised in advance. In a standard session, time for questions will be included in the time available to each speaker. Please do not deviate from this format; it inconviences delegates who, for whatever reason, need to leave or arrive after the session has started. In an organised panel, it may have been decided when the panel was proposed to have questions and discussion after each paper, or reserve these until the end.
As indicated in the Guidance to Speakers, both questions and comments are legitimate forms of response to a paper delivered in a standard session or organised panel, but speakers are not obliged to engage with hostile or self-indulgent questions or comments. As Chair, please take note if your speakers’ responses indicate that they wish to move on. You may wish to instruct the audience that there is no automatic right to a follow-up question or comment, and so participants should ask their most pressing question first; whether or not a second question or comment is possible will depend on how many other participants have things they wish to say.
In selecting questioners, please strive to be equitable: avoid favouring one part of the room over others, because it falls more directly within your visual field; avoid favouring scholars you recognise over those you don’t; avoid favouring senior scholars over junior ones; avoid favouring scholars of one gender, race, or ethnicity more than scholars of another. Please resist any temptation, if it occurs, to answer questions on behalf of a speaker. It is not the Chair’s prerogative to ask the first question, but you may wish to be ready with a question or comment if (i) the audience is slow to start asking questions or (ii) the discussion favours one or more presenters in an organised panel or roundtable at the expense of others.
At the end of the session
Sessions do sometimes overrun due to the enthusiasm of their participants, but please ensure that the session ends as soon as possible after its scheduled close, so that delegates can benefit from the break and/or refreshments, and the room is available for the next scheduled event. If you have been asked by the BSHS to make an announcement at the end of the session, please do it after you have asked the audience to thank the speakers.
Please ensure that the ‘traffic light’ cards and equipment instructions are left in place for the Chair of the next session.
If you have any concerns about anything that happened during the session, please bring them to the attention of the conference officer at the BSHS Conference Desk at the earliest possible opportunity.