Session Chair Handbook

The session chair role is an easy and fun way to contribute to DjangoCon. Here's a breakdown of how to be of the greatest benefit to your speaker and the audience.

As You Prepare

Plan to be in the Green Room (Salon A) at least 15 minutes before your session.

Feel free to use the Green Room at any time during the conference.

Before Your Session

Be in the Green Room 15 minutes before your session.

Grab spare water bottles to bring down with you. (There will be spare water in the podium)

Walk down to your talk room. Double check that you have: a schedule; 15 / 10 / 5 / stop signs

Know Your Speaker

Read the talk description. Speak to them beforehand and ask them if there's anything they'd like you to mention in their bio. For example, their open-source projects, the company they work for, and anything else that will make the audience excited to hear them speak. Remember that most of the audience likely has no idea who the speaker is.

In Case of Sudden Cancellation

If a speaker is unable to go on (due to a medical, personal, or any other issue), reassure them that it is okay. When something comes up and a speaker cannot proceed with their talk, it's common for them to feel as if they are letting the community down. This is not the case!

Things to do:

  1. Session Runner: contact a member of the conference staff as soon as possible when you discover that a speaker will be unable to go on.
  2. Session Chair: once you've confirmed that a speaker is unable to go on, consider the following options: --- Extended Q&A with the preceding speaker (with their permission, of course) --- Announcement that, due to unforeseen circumstances, this talk has been cancelled, with encouragement for everyone to either attend the other talk or take part in the "hallway track"

Make sure that a member of the conference staff knows what happened as soon as possible so they can reach out to the speaker.

Keep Track of Time

Know the times your speaker's talk begins and ends. Ask them beforehand whether they would like to leave time for questions, and if so how long (generally five minutes). Use the large, easy-to-read notes marked 15, 10, 5 and stop to flash them to the speaker when they have that number of minutes remaining. Make sure they know that "5" means five minutes until they wrap up for questions, not that the session is almost over.

Begin the Applause

When your speaker says "thank you," be ready to start the applause if the silence hangs a moment too long. It's surprising how quickly the whole room will follow you. Kind of like a super-power. Remember to do this both at the end of the talk and after the last question.

Ask the First Question

Possibly your most important responsibility is to pay close attention and come up with one or two questions during the talk. Then, when Q&A begins, immediately stand up and ask the first question unless you see someone else already headed for the microphone. This helps the audience by giving them time to think of questions, breaks the ice by saving everyone else from "going first," and keeps your speaker relaxed. Standing on stage to an audience of silence can be unnerving. For a great back-story on this, check out this posting by Russell Keith-Magee.

Talk to the AV Volunteers

The AV team doing the recording does an excellent job without attracting much attention. Help them out by talking to them before you begin to know which microphone(s) you should use. There will be at least three microphones: speaker, session chair, audience questions.

Code of Conduct

Presentations or similar events should not be stopped for one-time gaffes or minor problems, although a member of conference staff should speak to the presenter afterward (which means that session chairs should notify conference staff if these gaffes occur).

Session chairs should take immediate action to politely and calmly stop any presentation or event that repeatedly or seriously violates the anti-harassment policy.

For example, simply say "I'm sorry, this presentation cannot be continued at the present time" with no further explanation.

If you have to stop a presentation or event for this reason, contact conference staff as soon as possible to let them know.


Q&A options for speakers

Q&A, “no Q&A” and “in-person Q&A after the talk” are valid options.

Another option for you to consider is to hand out index cards during the talk. Then you ask the speaker all the questions. This way you can personally vet the questions and weed out humblebrag/non-questions (there are often a lot of these in Q&As unfortunately).

Script session chairs can use while introducing Q&A

"Thank you {speaker}! We've got a few minutes for questions now, so come to the microphone if you've got one. I would ask that you use this time only for questions directed at the speaker, though; please save your comments for after the recorded portion of the talk."

"Before we open up the Q&A, we want to remind the audience to keep your questions short, on-topic, and respectful. If they're not, the speaker or I may cut you off or decline to answer your question."

A similar script could be given to speakers to help them frame the Q&A.

Scripts session chairs can use to deal with unhelpful questions

"I’m very sorry to interrupt, but in the interest of fairness, please ask only one question at a time."

"I'm very sorry to interrupt, but at this point we're looking for questions only. Please save comments and feedback for later."

"I’m sorry, but in the interest of time I need to move on to the next person."