2015 Competitive Session Chairs


Thank you very much for agreeing to serve as a competitive session chair at the upcoming 2015 AIB-SE meeting in Savannah, GA hosted by Savannah State University. We are grateful that you are joining the community of volunteers who are absolutely critical for the conference success. The purpose of this message is to offer suggestions on how to chair your session, drawing upon past collective experiences. Session chairs are particularly important in recent years, as we have consolidated the roles of chairs and discussants under the responsibilities of the session chair. While you are not expected to act as a pure discussant, we would appreciate it if you could help to initiate a discussion during the session and provide some integrative comments and/or manuscript-specific comments at the end of the presentations. This can be done effectively by directing the conversation to common themes that cut across the individual presentations. Below are some key recommendations:


As session chair, you are expected to contact everyone in your session well in advance – two weeks before the conference is ideal. You can find the participants in your session – and their e-mails – in the conference program posted on the website.    We also suggest you download the information for your session (you can COPY and PASTE the text into MS WORD) for later reference. Please check the time of your session and make sure you have it penciled in your agenda.


Prior to the conference, the conference organizers will email all papers to you. Please circulate the paper to all authors to encourage everyone in your session to read all papers before the conference. This way, each participant can attempt, in their presentation, to link their papers to the other presentations for a more cohesive and stimulating session. Feel free to email the authors any additional or specific instructions, as the sessions do differ in length, numbers of participants, purpose and content.

Here is a template of an excellent introductory message, courtesy of Kevin Lowe, University of North Carolina, Greensboro:

Dear <insert name>:

You are listed as first authors in our <insert session name> session scheduled for <insert date and time> in <insert room number>. 

Also attached are the four submissions for this session.  The conference organizers suggested I share these papers with you.  Please be sure to read each paper in our session so that you can make cross paper references within your own presentations.

We have four papers and 75 minutes.  Therefore I would ask you to plan on a presentation of approximately 12 minutes. Each paper can then be followed by an audience question or two that will absorb about 3 minutes per paper.

So the session time allocation would break down like this:

  • 2 minutes to introduce the papers and the session theme
  • 60 minutes for paper presentations and follow-on questions
  • 3 one minute transitions between papers
  • 10 minutes for general audience discussion following the four papers.
  • 75 minutes total.

From this allocation, you can see that it is important to bring your paper presentation to a close around the 12-minute mark.

Please confirm for me that you will be presenting the paper and if not which one of your co-authors will be presenting.

I look forward to working with you to ensure a great session.  See you in Miami soon!



Each presenter should bring 15-20 copies of a summary of his/her paper to the session as a handout. These handouts should be distributed by you – the chair, and/or the authors before the session starts, with the extras left at the entry doors so that people coming in to the sessions can pick up the papers. Any leftover handouts, once the session is over, should be collected by the session chair (yourself) and returned to the AIB-SE Registration Desk.


Unless there is a problem, please keep to the order of papers, as outlined in the official Final Program. Although we would prefer that people don’t “hop” from one session to another, to listen to a particular paper based on the order shown in the program, in reality this will happen. However, we are asking that each presenter remains in the session in which they’re scheduled throughout that session, in courtesy to the other speakers, and again to ensure a more coherent session.


Most sessions are one hour and fifteen minutes (75 minutes) long. Most competitive sessions have 4 papers. We recommend allowing 12 minutes for presentation and 3-4 minutes for Q&A following each presentation. That should still allow for 5-10 minutes of general discussion following all presentations. Since there are no separate discussants, it is important that you give the audience sufficient time to comment.

Timing will be tight. Therefore, please do enforce the time limits we have proposed. That is, do not let a speaker run on and take time away from the speakers that follow, or from the feedback that they themselves will receive. Please do not put your speakers in the untenable situation in which the time for the session is up and others need the room, but your session hasn’t ended yet (you will be asked to leave the room at that point!) – watch the clock to see that everyone gets their fair share of the time, and the session can be concluded in good order. Carry a small clock or watch with you and two or three single sheets of paper. You can flag up when speakers have 5 minutes left, when they have 2 minutes left, and when their time is up. Tell the speakers ahead of time to watch for these sheets, and that we absolutely expect them to stop when the STOP sign is held up. When in doubt about the time, tend to err in favor of Q&A from the audience.

If you notice a presenter becoming highly defensive in response to comments they receive, please try to interfere and move the discussion to another direction. These defensive stances add little to the discussion, and they merely reduce the time available for further feedback to the authors, which is the whole purpose of these sessions. If they wish to continue the discussion, invite them to do so informally later after the close of the session, and during one of the breaks.


As chair, it is up to you to start the session. The first thing is to start on time. This is often hard to do, especially first thing in the morning when people can straggle in, but it is important to start on time, even if others join the session late. The second thing is to simply introduce the topic and the speakers. Your whole introduction should take no more than 2 minutes. Try to introduce from the very beginning an informal first-name tone.


Authors need to bring their presentations in the form of a PowerPoint document on a USB Memory Stick. Authors have been told to divide the number of minutes they have by two to work out how many slides they can manage in the time available (so no more than 7 or 8 slides). We have advised them of this, but it wouldn’t hurt if you were to remind them.


Meet the participants of your session 10 minutes BEFORE the session starts so that everyone can be introduced, the equipment can be checked, handouts can be distributed, and most importantly of all – so that presentations can be uploaded on to the computer in the room ahead of the start of the session, to avoid having to do this in the time of the session itself. You may wish to also use this time to remind them of the time limits they have, and what your role will be in maintaining order in the session.

It also helps to give your session members your room number in the hotel or a mobile telephone number where you can be reached should an emergency occur. If that unwelcome emergency does occur please let your session members know as soon as possible, and make other plans. Please be prepared for the unexpected!

We hope you find the above recommendations useful and look forward to seeing you all in Savannah!