Jesse Fox

Communication, singular

Tag: pro tips

How to Chair a Paper Presentation Panel

Before the conference

Make sure you know the time and format of your panel. How many presenters are there? How long does the session last? This will help you determine how long each presenter will have to speak. Be sure to account for 2-3 minutes in between each speaker for slide transitions and introductions and leave an appropriate amount of time at the end for questions and discussion. If you have any questions, the Vice Chair or program planner for the division is a good person to contact. Keep in mind their head will be exploding around conference time, so try to do this early.

Read through the papers on your panel. Prep questions/topics for every paper. Try to identify unifying themes that multiple presenters could discuss.

If you’re a real go-getter, you can email presenters to ask for updated paper copies (people often forget to re-upload to the conference site), ask who will be presenting, and let them know about the format of the session and the time they will have to present.

Do a mental walkthrough. If you’re inexperienced with chairing, think about it like any presentation you’d give. Practice introducing the papers or imagine what you’d say in situations like an off-track discussion (some suggestions are below).

Before your session

Prepare for the worst. If you want to be the best chair ever, come prepared for a variety of hiccups. Bring water, something to take notes on, the list of papers/presenters (DO NOT RELY ON WIRELESS ACCESS!), a timing device, your laptop, and a jump drive. Optional: time indicators (signs, iPad countdown) and breath mints (not gum, gross).

Show up early & prep. Make sure to arrange your schedule so that you can show up early and sit in the front row in front of the presenter area. Position yourself in between where the person is likely to speak and the audience so that you can give them clear timing cues (and cut them off if necessary). Ensure there are enough seats at the table if there is one. Check the projector to make sure it is working. If the previous panel members are lingering and preventing people from getting set up, simply let them know in a polite tone that you’re sorry to interrupt, but you need to get set up for the next session. Everyone knows that conferences run on very tight schedules.

Know your stuff. As presenters arrive, introduce yourself and get others’ names. You may also want to ask about pronunciations of names and affiliations.

Simplify tech issues. Try to establish a single computer and upload all presentations to one device. It will slow things down considerably if people are switching out computers constantly. If there is a clicker, get that set up. Ask presenters to test video clips, have websites open, etc. before the session starts to minimize technological failures.

Lay down the ground rules to the presenters. Yes, you read that right. Once you have most of your panelists at the front table, tell everyone that you will be strict with the time. You can be somewhat joking here but also invoke a little guilt. “I don’t want to have to throw my shoe at you or anything, but I just want everyone to know we’ll be sticking with the schedule.” Or,  “I hate having to cut anyone off, but it’s not fair to have one presenter cut into another presenter’s time.” Or, “We have so many exciting papers today, I can’t let any one presenter cut into someone else’s time.”

Public introduction. At the beginning, introduce yourself and announce to the audience that you’ll be sticking to the time limit for each presenter. You can say something like, “I would hate to cut anyone off, but because we have X presenters and such a limited amount of time, I’m going to be really strict on time.” Remind people of the nature of the format (e.g., tell people to hold their questions until the end of the session).

STICK TO THE TIME and take notes. Watch that timer like a hawk, give people appropriate signals, and….

Yes, cut people off if necessary. You have already told them you’re going to do it. You’ve forewarned the audience as well. You’ve mentioned that it’s a jerk move to cut into another presenter’s time. Find the first opening (a slide change is optimal), stand up, say “Thank you!” and turn to the audience and start clapping to signal applause.

Q & A and audience management

Allow the audience to start with questions. If it gets quiet, direct a question to one of the presenters who hasn’t had a question from the audience yet.

Don’t hesitate to interrupt audience members (or presenters) who monopolize the conversation. You may feel rude cutting that person off if they’re rambling, but keep in mind that everyone else in the room is often hoping and waiting for you to make it stop. Some language that may help you:

–“Sorry to interrupt, but I’m just going to jump in here because we only have a few minutes left for discussion.”

–“This is an interesting conversation, but I really want to make sure we get to the other audience questions, so I’m going to transition here.”

–“I don’t mean to cut you short, but we’ve got some other questions. Our presenters will be here for a few minutes after the session, so perhaps you could follow up with them.”

End the session on time. There is probably another group of people waiting just outside the door who want to come in and get set up for their talks. Don’t stress them out by cutting into their time–that’s not cool.

After the session

If someone didn’t show up or there were any other notable incidents, notify the Vice Chair of the division as soon as possible.

Give yourself a pat on the back. It’s over!

Making conference travel affordable: Tips & tricks

Traveling to conferences can be a continuing financial burden for academics. There’s also the added twist that often times, the locations people are most excited about are also the most expensive. ICA 2014 in London exceeded all expectations and was a great conference—but I also didn’t take the time to plan in advance and ended up spending way more money than I had budgeted for (even worse, most of it was on bad meals, also due to a lack of planning.) Here are a few tips for making work travel slightly less paralyzing for your checkbook (that may come in handy for last minute spring break planning too–who knows.)

Find friends. As soon as you know you’re going, sound the alarms for potential roommates and/or travel partners. This is the easiest way to cut down on hotel and travel expenses (especially if you can drive instead of fly) and, of course, it makes conferencing more fun. If you have friends in your destination city, see if they’re willing to put up with a houseguest for a couple of days.

Check your discounts. Sure, you get a conference hotel discount…but even then, conference hotels can be far outside of a normal travel budget. Few of us have the luxury of free hotel stays thanks to accumulated travel points, but sometimes there are benefits we forget about attached to other affiliations. Sometimes being a student is enough to get you a discount. I find my AAA card indispensable not only as a driver but also as a traveler, because many hotels and attractions (e.g., museums, historical sites) will give you an additional discount. I also belong to two social organizations that also get discounts on rental cars. Of course, always compare these prices with what you can find on bargain travel websites.

Do your research. Before you start digging, find out the basics about your destination by looking at travel sites. How far away is it from your school? Could you drive, or must you fly? What airports can you fly into? Is there a public transportation system? How is the public transit access from the airport to the hotel or from your hotel to the conference site? Are there affordable dining options around the hotel (and will they be open)? Don’t forget to check out the materials assembled by the sponsoring association–sometimes they have helpful hints there, such as leads on cheap transportation or staying in cheap campus housing for the conference.

Lodging. A little inconvenience can mean huge savings at conferences. It’s great to be able to take the elevator to talks and stay indoors when conferences are inexplicably scheduled in miserable climates, but you can often save hundreds of dollars outside of the conference hotel. For ICA in San Francisco several years ago, a colleague was able to book a room for us in a hotel less than a block away from the conference for over $100 cheaper a night, and it was just as nice as the conference hotel.

If you are staying for an extended period (e.g., for a preconference), you might search out non-hotel alternatives through,, or other websites that lease out apartment-style living spaces. These sites usually get you access to a full kitchen, which means you can minimize your food budget by feeding on cereal, peanut butter, frozen burritos, and/or pasta.

If you are driving to the conference and have access to a car, this can free you up even more. If you’re in a suburban area, staying at a hotel closer to the highway will often net you the free parking, free breakfast, and free wifi that is a rare trifecta for conference hotels. Typically you can pay a small fee ($10 or less a day) to get a microwave and mini-fridge in your room, which can cut food costs considerably.

Transportation. At a recent ICA in Phoenix, I was amazed how many people didn’t realize that there was a train that ran from the airport to within a couple blocks from the hotel. I spent $4 round trip; I heard round trip taxi fare was about 10 times that. From what I’ve observed, this usually isn’t a secret: the conference organizations often advertise these options in newsletters and on the website. Take the time to skim the materials your associations lovingly assemble and pick up some travel pointers.

If you’re driving to your destination, don’t forget to factor in tolls and parking. I have stayed at highway hotels and used public transportation or driven to conference hotels; even when I have to pay $30 to park at the conference hotel as I did at NCA 2012 in Ughlando, though, my off-site lodging option was still considerably cheaper (especially when factoring in the other amenities like a full kitchen).

Food & drink. The easiest way to save money on food is to eat in your hotel room. When looking at your hotel options, check to see if they offer a free breakfast, mini-fridge, microwave, or coffeemaker. I eat constantly, so I typically pack food (given groceries are rarities near conference sites). Cereal is an easy breakfast and/or snack. Bagels are great for breakfast and can also host lunch with some peanut butter (they also travel better than crackers or bread.) Energy bars are convenient and don’t take up a lot of space. Add some apples, pears, or other sturdy fruits and you should make it through the week without starving or scurvy. If you have access to a grocery, you can expand your repertoire from hotel room grilled cheese and coffemaker ramen to frozen meals, depending on the presence of an iron, microwave, and/or mini-fridge in your room.

For a caff-fiend like me, a coffeemaker is indispensable for my conference productivity. Nothing gets my goat like having to fork over $4 in the conference hotel lobby for awful Starbucks. Over the course of 3-4 days, those little expenditures add up (not to mention the inevitable eons-long line in between morning panels.)

At the conference, ask around about the evening parties sponsored by schools. Some provide free food or drink tickets, but usually these only last for the early arrivals. If you stroll in fashionably late, you’ll only witness the scavenged remains of various crudité and feel a deep sense of disappointment.

As an eater (i.e., someone who likes to eat frequently and awesomely; please don’t confuse me for a foodie), my favorite part of conference travel is finding good noms. I consult several food sites (like, my life coach) in addition to destination guides to find feasible and affordable options. This research helped me track down a food truck gathering four blocks from ICA in Phoenix, a hole in the wall with decent $3 margaritas in San Francisco, and several spectacular food adventures in various back alleys at NCA New Orleans (including the Green Goddess, which was bizarre in all the right ways). When in doubt, ask a few locals or a hotel employee (not the front desk or concierge, however.) After several disappointing meals, I asked a bellhop in London where he liked to eat nearby, and he told us about a Thai restaurant that was hidden in the upstairs of a nearby pub. The food was amazing–far more delicious and affordable than anything else we found within walking distance of the hotel.

Entertainment. Occasionally you are lucky enough to have time to do something purely for fun. As mentioned before, some attractions will offer discounts for students or people with a college ID. There are also military discounts, senior discounts, and membership discounts (AAA) for places, so always ask. If you are plan on hitting up several attractions, you might see if there is a discounted pass, but be realistic about your availability. If you’re conferencing you may only have time to see one or two things, and separate admissions would be cheaper than a pass. You can also investigate the tours and offerings assembled by conference organizers, but I find that organizing on your own is usually cheaper.

As far as socializing goes, the hotel lobby bar is often a great place to run into people and strike up conversations, but it is also a notorious money vacuum. Beyond the school-hosted parties frequented by attendees, often there are interest group or graduate student organization happy hours at off-site locations. Take advantage of them. Often conference hotels are in downtown areas, and your bar and club options can be expensive. If you are looking for some nightlife, do a little online research and see if you can’t uncover a less expensive alternative.

Do math, and remember that time = money. Now that I’ve given you all these tips on how to conserve your funds, let me add one caveat. Saving money is important, but some things are also worth the extra money to save yourself time and frustration. If public transportation requires a shuttle to a train to a bus to a trolley with 30 minute layovers in between each stop, sometimes it’s worth it to fork over the extra money for a taxi. If you make this allowance, though, remember you’ll need to tighten the purse strings in another part of your budget.

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