So you’ve been asked to chair a conference – brilliant! But as excited and honoured as you may feel there may also be a few nerves mixed in, especially if you’ve never done it before.
So, if you’re not sure how to chair a conference, we’ve put together some expert tips for you.
As a conference chair you’ll be responsible for introducing the speakers. So get in touch with them before the event to find out how they’d like to be introduced. It also helps to break the ice a little if you’ve spoken beforehand – especially if a speaker is a bit nervous.
Similarly, take the time to greet your speakers personally on the day, before you go on stage (many London conference venues will have a back stage area or green room). That tiny bit of personal contact can make a big difference to how relaxed you both are on stage sometimes. And it’s a final chance to check you’re pronouncing their name correctly!
You may find that one speaker is more experienced or eloquent than the others. Or that you like and agree with one more. But it’s your job to ensure everyone has an equal voice, so make sure you give everyone the same chance to have their say, and don’t be seen to favour one speaker over another.
You may be itching to add your own opinions, experiences or funny stories to the debate, but hold back that urge. Remember that this isn’t about you – you’re there to facilitate the event, not hog it. By all means add small comments and asides but make sure the spotlight is on your speakers.
It’s also important not to let any particular speaker dominate the stage. So if a speaker starts going over their allotted time to speak, politely ask them to wind it up. It helps if you let them know before you go on stage you’ll be doing this, and maybe even agree a sign that their time is up.
If you’re opening up the floor to questions, there’s a good chance you may get none initially, so have at least one question ready to ask each speaker. That way you’ll avoid any potentially awkward silences.
If the audience heckle, or shout out questions at the wrong time, politely but firmly ask them to be professional and polite, or wait their turn. And if several audience members raise their hands at once to ask a question, acknowledge each one with a nod so they know you’ve seen them and will get to their question in turn.
And finally, keep the event on a positive note by remaining upbeat yourself, and highlighting any positive side to points made. Think of yourself as controlling the emotional temperature of the conference, and keep it well above freezing!
Whether you’re chairing a conference or not, these conference planning tips may come in handy:
Read our checklist for planning a conference, discover the five magical ingredients of successful conference planning and if you’re ready to promote your event; here are six conference marketing ideas.