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Guidance for Panel Chairs

Questions? Email Michelle Katz

Created in consultation with the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force

In the interest of creating more just, inclusive, and productive conference sessions, the AJS has developed a set of guidelines for chairs and panelists. Please read these carefully.

Chairs, if you work ahead of time to clarify expectations for the panelists, it can help you make the session as inclusive as possible.

Here is a list of suggestions for communication before the conference and for facilitating the actual panel at the conference.

  1. 1. Advanced preparation. Chairs have oversight over the panel and therefore want to make sure that your presenters and respondents also create an inclusive intellectual community in the session. To that end, we recommend having a planning conference call (either phone, Zoom, Skype) in advance of the conference to remind people of their roles and their time limits including respondents, and then allow the presenters to speak briefly about their paper, confirm titles of their papers, and their professional biographies. This call should not take more than 30 minutes. Remind panelists of the order of their presentations, which is how it appears in the program book. Ideally, they will send you as chair as well as the respondent their presentation version of the papers no less than one week in advance of the conference. We recognize that this is not always realistic, but setting that as a goal will remind everyone that they should not be writing their papers the night before. This is to ensure that the paper is not too long. This is also to ensure that the respondent, should a panel have one, has sufficient time to prepare a response. Also remind panelists that their presentations should either avoid or translate jargon or foreign language phrases that one could not assume that all session attendees would understand.

  2. 2. Visuals and handouts. Whenever possible, all photographs and videos should be captioned and handouts should be in at least 18 point font for greater accessibility. If anyone uses anything other than English on a handout or a slide, be sure to have an English translation available.

  3. 3. Time keeping. Keeping control of time is critical as we want to make sure each person on the panel has an equal opportunity to present their paper. To that end, please make sure that panelists speak for no longer than their allotted time (15 or 20 minutes). We recommend having a five-minute warning, a one-minute warning, and a “time is up” sign for you to use. Chairs should sit close to the podium, or near the speaker if there is no podium, so that you can ensure that chairs are able to communicate with the speakers while they’re presenting.

  4. 4. Fielding questions. How the chair fields questions for the session is an opportunity to allow audience participation. To ensure parity, please be mindful of who is asking questions. Research shows that when women or gender non-conforming people are called on first, there tends to be more gender balance among subsequent questioners. Another best practice is to take three questions at a time and then give the panel a chance to respond in turn. This allows panelists to respond to only those questions they choose. Ideally you will get through two rounds of three questions each.

At the conference:

  1. 1. Refer to the these instructions, which will be on a laminated sheet at each session.

  2. 2. If there are microphones in the room, try to ensure that there is at least one microphone for every two speakers. During the question and answer period, be sure that there is a microphone for use by the audience. If there is no microphone accessible to the audience, the chair should repeat the question after they are asked. This also makes sure that the question asker has been heard.

  3. 3. If panelists use technical jargon or foreign language terms or phrases that all session attendees are not likely to understand, please ask them to define or translate the relevant terminology.

  4. 4. Refer to all panelists equally. Studies show that it is more common for women to be referred to by their first names even when they have professional titles. So you should agree on the pre-conference call about how panelists would like to be introduced. We recommend having you announce the first name and last name, so as to avoid using titles that some presenters/respondents might not have. That information can be conveyed in the brief biography you read out at the beginning of each presentation.

  5. 5. Remind presenters that you will be strictly enforcing time and demonstrate that if the first presenter goes over.

  6. 6. Ideally, there should always be at least 15 minutes for question and answer. During that period, remind the audience to avoid jargon, speak “leanly,” (no more than 30 seconds), and to use a microphone to make sure everyone can hear. Collect up to three questions before referring the questions back to the panel.

  7. 7. Be sure there is water in your room. If there is not, be sure to flag a conference/hotel staff person to bring that room water.