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Vol. 28 No. 5
September-October 2006

Chairing Scientific Symposia

by Roger Fenwick and Leiv K. Sydnes

The chairperson constitutes an essential component of any major scientific symposium. It is important that those selected for such a task understand that the role of the chairperson is to facilitate the execution of the symposium and function as a connection between the speaker and the audience. Surprisingly, this role is frequently misunderstood. In fact, most scientists can testify that they have attended scientific sessions that were adversely affected by a chair belonging to one of the following groups:

  • The Oscar Winner, who has spoken at conferences and chaired sessions for decades; speakers have to fit in with his/her performance, and it is a performance,developed and honed over many years.
  • The Know it All, who is always ready to impose his/her stamp on any presentation and demonstrate brilliance by hogging question time.
  • The Unconstrained, who is oblivious to the clock and is frequently ready to stimulate irrelevant discussion, which frustrates speakers—especially the next one—and audiences alike.
  • The Nervous, who starts twitching five minutes into the lecture, shifts papers to be ready for the next presentation, and is capable of putting anyone off.
  • The Technophile, who is looking forward to any breakdown in the presentation technology so that he/she can leap up to assist.
  • The Busy Professional, who arrives a minute before the session starts, is completely unaware of the session order as well as the gender and the presence of speakers.

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