Chairing a session and Being a Discussant
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Chairing a session and Being a DiscussantScience CommunicationLOLO.00.037www.ut.ee/BG/scom
Tips for presenting, chairing, and discussing at conferencesThe major pointers (the three P's):Be prepared - regardless of the role you have, make sure to prepare fully beforehand. Be professional - make sure you act professionally throughout the process. Be prompt - Make sure to show up early for our panel. You should be at the room at least 10 minutes before "show time" so that you can prepare yourself, and interact with presenters.
Chairing the sessionSpeak confidently -- good voice projection and eye contact is important. So look at the audience !!Speak sufficiently slowly that each word is clear. Do not swallow words.Introduce the speaker/presenter by covering, at the very least, their name and the title of what they will present. You may also include a little of their background.Also introduce the discussant and explain any aspects of their role you would like to being to the attention of the audience.
Being a Chair (chairman/chairperson)Your main job is to facilitate the presentations. Keep time. Be prepared to hand the speaker a slip of paper with time remaining at 3 minutes before the end and 1 minutes before the end. You can allow each person a minute or so beyond their allotted time, but then wait for them to take a breath and simply interject something like "Time is up. Could you please wrap up now?"
Managing QuestionsChairs usually manage the questions coming from the audience. Begin by saying Now, I would like to open the session up for questions. If it's a small group, you can ask people to identify themselves. If people go on too long with their questions/comments, you can ask them to get to the point in a polite way, but don't sweat on it. Try to manage things well, but don't worry if you don't.Ending the session. Say something like, Well, if there are no more questions, I would like to conclude by thanking our presenter for providing us with their presentation and I would now like to call on the discussant to provide a critique of the presentation and the manner in which it was delivered.
Being a DiscussantThe major task of a discussant is to provide focused and useful constructive criticism and suggestions for their papers. Make specific constructive criticisms and suggestions include at least the following 4 aspects.
1. Begin with one positive element of the paper. 2 Goal of paper or presentation.Point out something that they could do which would strengthen the paper.Comment on the goal aspects of their presentation ability, but also draw attention to anything that you feel should be improved
The Target GroupsThe discussant has to satisfy two key groups First, the discussant is responsible to the audience at the session. The audience normally see the discussant as the person who can best provide a road map for research in this area and interpret the poster/paper in the context of that road map (this applies to your NOS presentations). Second, the discussant is responsible to the author of the poster/paper. The author are looking for meaningful and constructive feedback on the paper. The discussant has to do all of this in a very short period of time!
What NEITHER group is looking for is for the discussant to talk about THEIR OWN research. That is not the purpose of a discussant! Please refrain from treading down that path.
Think positiveAlways start your intervention as a discussant by pointing out what the poster/NOS presentation has tried to do (what do you see as its main message) and how it helped to provide a new and interesting empirical material, came to a surprising insight, or whatever (what do you like about it).
Almost all presentations are potentially good, and it is your duty to make sure that comes out. A critique of the position developed in the paper can wait until after you've done that.
Remember, that most criticism can be made constructive simply by phrasing it as "One thing that you might do to strengthen your argument/presentation is to [bring more of the recent literature on X to bear on the topic] [speak more loudly/slower]" or "The excellent theoretical material that you have brought together in the poster/paper could be presented even more compellingly by [making use of some of the empirical material as anecdotal illustrations of the key theoretical points] [being more emphatic in you use of expressions]."
Other factors when being a poster or a paper discussantYour comments are meant to be the most thought-through reactions that the author receives on that presentation.
Your comments should concentrate on making a poster/paper better: having a poster/paper discussed at a workshop is an important formal moment in the process of writing a paper, and you are the institutional vehicle for that.
Rules for DiscussantsThere are two simple rules to follow: Do not do unto others what you would not want to have done unto you;. That is, give the type of comments that you would like to receive yourself.2. Divide up your critique By and large, a poster/paper can be evaluated using three criteria: the central argument what it is and how it was expressed, the method, (what this is and how it was made clear) the organisation/presentation of the poster/paper.
Going into more detail about being a discussant for a conference poster/paper or set of papers.
These points go beyond our little practice sessions and try to help in the real conference situation
Central argumentTry to capture the central argument of the poster/paper in a few words. Often the author benefits tremendously simply by having you re-state what he or she was trying to say.This may take the form of: pointing out other positions in the debate that the author did not acknowledge, a head-on critique of the central claim of the poster/paper, with which you disagree, or the presentation of "disturbing" new facts that you have and which fit rather uneasily with the point of the poster/paper.
MethodExplicitly address issues of design and method. Again, the first step in this process is to (re)state what the author is trying to do, and assess it on those terms. Always be helpful, i.e. think through, in a virtual or real discussion with the author, how methodological problems could be resolved. If you disagree with the method on principle or for this particular research questionmake clear why you disagree. Method is important, but avoid getting bogged down by it.
Organisation of the posterOften the weakest part of conference poster/is the organisation: posters are written with one particular outline in mind, and as the poster evolves, some of that can get lost.On organisational issues, you should be very tough: after all, that is the main instrument that the author has for making an impact. It is usually this dimension of a poster/paper which is most easily revised. A poorly organised poster/paper is difficult to read, and if the argument is worthwhile, then that is a pity.
Building your commentary1. Act as if the presentation is all you'll know. Given that title, what might (s)he say? 2. If you can read through the material multiple times. Each time you'll see something different, because you will have had different intervening experiences and you are a different reader.3. Have definitions of key terms or seek clarification on behelf of the audience (as Authors may not do this). You can always say, these people are not talking about this phenomenon, as it is usually defined. It is usually defined as X.
Possible sample leading commentsa. You can do even more with this argument than what we've heard here. For instance,b. The predominant reference in this paper is X. What if it had been Y?c. We came to this symposium with assumptions affecting our reactions. There are at least four reactions people can have: (i) that's absurd (deny assumption); (ii) that's interesting (disconfirm weak assumption) (iii) that's obvious (affirms assumptions); (iv) that's irrelevant (does not speak to assumptions). What is the pattern of reactions to what we have heard?d. Given this topic, I expected the presenter to say X. Much to my surprise he/she said Y. What can we make of that?
A Realistic preview of the discussants role1. You'll get none of the posters/papers in advance.2. At the session there will be little time left for you to make your comments.3. In the time left, you'll be introduced as the person who will pull all of this together. (this refers to discussing a set of papers).4. The audience wants you to sit down so they can ask their questions.5. Being a discussant is fun to do, because you have a chance to spot connections and you don't have to worry about writing a paper during the holidays so as to get a slot at the meeting (being involved is often important for seeking funding !!).
Coping without see posters in advance Take notes. To get your bearings. Why that title for the paper ? Is there a better title? Has the presentation a good sequence? It is OK to draw the audience in: Thus before we get to your questions, let me ask you in the audience to take on the role of discussant for the moment. What do you think are the big ideas we heard, what surprised you, what's controversial, what will you take away? (Dont allow the person working in the same research area to sleep !!) Skim a recent newspaper. Something will have been relevant to the topic. For example There is a certain timeliness to these presentations, at least judging from this item in today's Postimees.
Possible QuestionsIsn't being a discussant just the same as being a manuscript reviewer