Session chairs have an extremely valuable role in the smooth running of a conference. You manage a room for a given run of talks and are responsible for the following things:
- Helping the speakers feel comfortable and sure of themselves.
- Acting as a conduit between the speaker and the audience, helping the audience get the most value from the sessions.
- Making sure that the session, and therefore the conference, runs on time.
- Making sure that our Code of Conduct is maintained.
To help do this, we've put together a small checklist of things you should do as a session chair. Read over them, and note them down somewhere: they'll help you make PyCon UK 2018 a fantastic conference!
- Ensure that you have read and are familiar with the Code of Conduct
- Arrive to your session early. It's important that sessions start on time, and they can only do that if the chair is present!
Before each talk in your session begins, introduce yourself to the speaker. You need to find out some information from them:
- How should you pronounce their name? It's embarrassing to pronouce a speaker's name incorrectly: confirm with the speaker how they'd like their name pronounced!
- Check whether the speaker wants questions during their talk, after the talk, or not at all.
- Inform the speaker of how much time they will have to speak, taking the questions into account. In a 30 minute slot, there are 25 minutes of content and five minutes of switchover time.
- Note that, if the speaker wants to take questions at the end, they'll usually want five minutes for questions. This means that a speaker will speak for 20 minutes in a 30 minute slot.
- It's extremely important that speakers keep to their time slot, and making sure they know how much time is available to them before they start helps.
- At the start of the slot, introduce the speaker to the audience. Tell the audience whether there will be questions, and if they can ask questions during the talk or not.
Count the speaker down for their speaking time. Give them five and one minute warnings, and then flag them when their speaking time is over.
Don't stop a speaker until they're at the session time limit (25 minutes). If a speaker is speaking past their time limit you must stop them. Give them 20 seconds to wrap up, but the five minute handover period must be respected.
- When the speaker has finished, you're in charge of running the questions (if there are any).
- Before beginning, tell the audience that you'll only accept actual questions. Statements and advertisements for personal projects should be done after the session.
- When questions are asked, ensure that the audience can hear them: repeat them if needed
- If no-one else is prepared to ask the first question, you should!
- When there's only 5 minutes left in the session, call it to a close. Thank the speaker!
If, at any point, you feel there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct, don't be afraid to use your authority:
- Intervene and warn the individual concerned that they have said or done something inappropriate and that they should stop. e.g. You might:
- Ask the speaker to stop as you would like a quiet word, approach them and privately point out what they have said
- Interrupt a question, tell the audience that it was inappropriate and take a different question instead
- If you feel it necessary, stop the session, ask the audience to leave and contact the organisers.
This seems like a lot, but it's mostly fairly simple. Keep track of your responsibilities, and everything will go smoothly. Enjoy your sessions!