Guidelines for PAA Annual Meeting Chairs

2018 Annual Meeting, Population Association of America
Denver, CO ● April 26– 28, 2018

Thank you for serving as chair of a PAA session. The quality and tenor of the session depends greatly on your work. Your role as chair includes both pre-conference preparation and facilitation at the conference. You can build a network among the presenters; set the tone for the session; make connections among the panelists, the participants and the topics; ensure fair allocation of the time available; and foster collegial and professional exchange. Should challenges arise, you will be looked to for guidance and leadership. We offer these guidelines to you as the chair of a regular or invited session:

At least one month before the conference, please connect with all of your presenters, including discussants.

1. Set the ground rules for the session: Lay out the plan for the session and specify the time to be allocated for each presenter or discussant. If you wish to enforce a slide limit in the interest of time, make sure to tell presenters in advance. Be sure to reserve time for audience questions at the end. Note: sessions are just 90 minutes long! For a typical four- paper session, a benchmark schedule would be 15 minutes per paper, 20 minutes for the discussant (or 10 minutes each if you have two discussants), and 10 minutes for audience questions.

2. The  final deadline for participants to upload their papers on the PAA Conference website is April 6, 2018 in order to make them available to the session’s discussant. However, some presenters forget to post their papers and others have not yet completed them by this deadline. If the discussant is willing to accept papers after the posted deadline, negotiate a later deadline. In any case, make it clear to participants that there is a firm deadline, that discussants are not required to discuss any paper received after the deadline, and that posting papers to the meeting website is strongly encouraged.

3. Encourage the presenters to share any materials available in advance of the session including presentations, papers, or resource links. This allows presenters to build upon one another’s work, identify linkages in their presentations, and save time by not repeating the obvious from someone else’s presentation.

4. It is your responsibility to assure that there is a laptop available for the session. Identify someone (ideally yourself) who has an appropriate computer for connecting to the projection equipment. Tell the participants to send their presentations to the person with the computer at least 24 hours before the session so that they can be loaded prior to the session. Follow up with any presenter who has not sent a presentation and make a plan to get the presentation on the laptop before the session begins. This saves time during the session.

Prior to the session, check the room and confirm that the computer will connect with the projection equipment. (Note, for example, that Macs require a special connector that will enable it to plug into a standard VGA cable). In addition, notify Bobbie Westmoreland if any presentations have video clips that include sound as these need a special audio sound patch into the sound system.

At the session
1. Arrive early. Locate and welcome your speakers and attendees. Make sure you have the correct pronunciation of participants’ names.

2. Start on time and end on time. This maximizes the time allocated for content and allows the next group the time they need to set up for an on-time start. If discussion is still lively when it is time to end your session, move the conversation into the halls.

3. Set the stage. Welcome the audience, introduce yourself (name and affiliation) as the chair, and identify the session topic. You may add a brief comment or two to prime the audience for the session but limit this strictly to avoid impinging on presenters’ time.

4. Introduce each presentation. Transition between presentations by thanking the previous presenter and introducing the next, noting the name and affiliation of the individual or group and the general topic. If you prefer, you may alternatively introduce all of the speakers at the start and let them come to the podium in turn. This saves a few minutes for presentations and discussion but may slightly disadvantage audience members who join the session late.

5. Keep to the order listed in the program. Some people come to listen to one speaker and may be disappointed if the speakers are not in the published order.

6. Watch the clock. Warn your speakers as their time draws to a close using written notes indicating the time remaining (typically 5 minutes, 2 minutes, and stop). Be firm.

7. It is imperative that you stop any presenter who has exceeded the allocated time. Failing to do so is unfair to the other presenters, the discussant, and the audience. There are several ways to do this. You can signal to the speaker and the audience that the time is up by politely telling the speaker it is important to stop now. You may try initiating applause during the next pause, simply walk to the front and stand next to the speaker, or finally get up and thank the presenter for the presentation, noting that the session must move on to the next presenter. This will be far easier if you have laid the ground rules in advance of the session via email and reminded the presenters about your responsibility before the session starts.

8. Facilitate discussion. Audience discussion is a crucial element of every PAA session and many audience members are disappointed if they don’t have the opportunity to engage the panel. Audience discussion should wait until all presenters and discussants have had the opportunity to speak. As a general rule, you should be opening the floor for discussion at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled end time. If you have ample time, you may want to ask the presenters if they want to briefly respond to discussant comments before allowing audience participation. However, do not let this interfere with the audience’s opportunity to participate.

9. During discussion periods, scan the entire audience for raised hands and call on people in turn, trying to first select people who raised their hands early. Set an expectation for professional, courteous, discourse. Ask that questions be short and targeted and encourage attendees to follow-up after the session as well. If there are many people with questions,
avoid letting one person monopolize the discussion.

10. Ask people who pose a question to stand up, identify him/herself, turn towards the audience, and speak up so that everyone can hear the question. If the audience cannot hear, ask the presenter to briefly restate the question before answering it.

11. Wrap-up and end. Clearly define the conclusion of the session by thanking the presenters and the
audience and stating that the session has concluded. At the end of the session, if there is a session following, ask that everyone leave the room and continue the discussion in the foyers so that the next session will have time to set up.

12. Troubleshoot. As the chair, people will turn to you should problems arise and expect you to manage the session and respond to challenges.

13. Monitor the room. Should the projector not work, or something happen to the room itself (a spill, noise intrusion, etc.), please email PAA staff at This email will go to all onsite PAA staff who will take care of your issues as soon as possible. Please keep in mind that this email address will only be monitored from the start of the pre-conference workshop until the end of the conference and staff will only respond to emails concerning technical issues or emergencies.

Guidelines for Discussants