AEA hopes that each session is welcoming, inclusive, fair, respectful and most importantly, an opportunity for professional learning and networking. Towards that end, the AEA Conference Policy Committee has developed the following guidelines for serving as a chair, discussant, or presenter at Evaluation 2007:

Guidelines for serving as a Session Chair

The quality and tenor of the session depends greatly on the active and early participation of the session chair. The chair can build a network among the presenters, set the tone for the session, make connections among the people and topics, ensure fair allocation of the time available, and foster collegial and professional exchange. Should challenges arise, the chair will be looked to for guidance. Throughout the session, the chair will be looked to for leadership. The role of the chair ideally includes both pre-conference preparation and during-conference facilitation. We offer these guidelines to you as the chair of a valuable conference session.


Pre-conference: We are asking something new of session chairs this year. At least one month before the conference, please connect with all of your presenters, including discussants, co-chairs, etc., as a group, in order that each may learn from the other and the session may go as smoothly as possible. You can see the list of everyone in your session, with their email addresses, by clicking here to go to the online program. Pre-conference, as a chair you should:

  • Use technology to connect: Begin by emailing everyone as a group, then consider setting up a blog or connecting via phone. Example letter

  • Help to build professional networks: Ask each presenter to introduce him or herself and the focus of their presentation. Encourage discourse.

    • Insider tip: If no presenter representing a particular presentation responds, reach out a second time, one-on-one, to be sure that he or she received the original correspondence and is still planning to attend the conference.

  • Set the ground rules for the session: Lay out the format for the session, and discuss as needed, noting the time to be allocated for each portion. If this is a paper session, each paper will be limited to fifteen minutes, including questions, until everyone has had an opportunity to present. If there is a discussant (or discussants) work with them to identify the length of their contribution. Be sure to reserve time for audience questions at the end.

  • Exchange materials electronically: Ask that the presenters share any materials available in advance of the session including slides, papers, or resource links. Encourage presenters to build upon one another's work and identify linkages in their presentations.

    • Insider tip: Take a look through slides and offer guidance if appropriate. Are they readable from a distance? Is the number reasonable for the time allocated?

At the session: The time has come - seize the opportunity to build a learning community in your session room! At the session, as a chair you should:

  • Arrive early and greet those in attendance: Locate and welcome your speakers and attendees and make everyone feel at ease.

    • Insider tip: If you can't locate a speaker, go forward without that presentation and take the opportunity to facilitate more discussion at the end. Avoid re-allocating the time for formal presentations as presenters may not be prepared to do so.

  • Start on time and end on time: Maximize the time allocated. Encourage people to sit and focus as the session start time approaches. Be courteous to the next group and allow time for transition between obligations by ending on time. Get the presenters in place as early as possible.

    • Insider tip: If the setup for the room allows, have your presenters sit beside one another in the order of their presentations. As the chair, sit immediately next to the podium, if there is one, as you will be the person getting up and down the most to speak and provide transitions.

  • Set the stage: Welcome the audience, introduce yourself (name and affiliation) as the chair, and identify the session topic.  Example language

    • Insider tip: Prepare a very short introduction from the pre-conference discussion among the participants and/or by using the abstracts in the online program.

  • Introduce each presentation: Transition between presentations by thanking the previous presenter and introducing the next, noting the name and affiliation of the individual or group and the general topic. Example transition language

  • Watch the clock: In a multipaper session, each paper is allocated 15 minutes. In other formats, you should have developed a plan for time allocation for the session in advance. Warn your speakers as their time draws to a close.

    • Insider tip: A timing card is placed in each room, noting ‘3 minutes’, ‘1 minute’, and ‘stop’. Show these to the facilitators and use them – or enlist a colleague in the audience – to provide warnings. If the card is gone, make your own.

  • Facilitate discussion: During discussion periods, keep notes as to who has raised hands and call on people in turn. Set an expectation for professional, courteous, discourse. Ask that questions be short and targeted and encourage attendees to follow-up after the session as well. If there are many people with questions, avoid letting one person monopolize the discussion.

    • Insider tip: Be prepared with a question appropriate to the topic just in case none are forthcoming from the audience; however, first give the audience the chance to raise its questions.

    Repeat back questions from the audience to be sure that everyone heard the question clearly. The audience member is likely facing front and those behind her or him may find it difficult to hear the question posed.

  • Wrap-up and end: Provide a clear conclusion to the session by thanking the presenters and the audience and stating that the session has concluded. At the end of the session, if there is a session following, ask that everyone leave the room and continue the discussion in the foyers so that the next session will have time to set up.

  • Troubleshoot: As the chair, people will turn to you should problems arise and expect you to manage the session and respond to challenges.

    • Setting and room: Should the overhead projector not work, the room be too hot or too cold, or something happen to the room itself (a spill, noise intrusion, etc.), contact the hotel or the AEA staff using either an in-house phone or by sending someone to the registration desk (do not go yourself).

    • Long-winded presenters: Should someone go over the allotted time, and not heed your cards noting that time is up, you may try initiating applause during the next pause, or simply walk to the front and thank the presenter for the presentation but note that the session must move on to the next presenter. This will be far easier if you have laid the ground rules in advance of the session via email and at the start of the session in your introduction. Example language

Pre-conference - example letter: "Evaluation 2007 Colleagues, I am the chair for the multipaper session entitled 'Surveys as a Data Collection Tool.' This year, each chair has been asked to connect with the presenters in his or her session in advance of the conference so that we may know of each other's work, improve the flow of the session, and set some timing guidelines. I work at the University of West Florida's Data Center and am looking forward to meeting you all in person. Would you each be kind enough to a) introduce yourself and your topic, and b) share any materials - notes, slides, papers, links - as they become available? I also want to take this opportunity to set the basic ground rules for our session (and for all multipaper sessions). We'll open with a very brief introduction from me to be followed by each of you in turn, in the order that you appear in the conference program. Each presentation is allocated fifteen minutes during which you are welcome to take questions, or not, at your discretion. However, after the fifteen minutes have elapsed, we will need to move on to the next presentation in order to be fair to everyone. After the presentations, I will facilitate a question-and-answer period from the audience. To help keep us all on track, we'll be using timing cards to warn you when you have three minutes left, one minute left, and when it is time to stop. Please 'reply to all' so that we may all learn, one form the other. I look forward to our exchange and to seeing you in Baltimore!" Return

Set the stage - example language: "Welcome everyone to multipaper session 307 focusing on using surveys as a data collection tool. Thank you for joining us on this lovely Friday morning. My name is Shara Ibaru. I work at the Data Center at the University of West Florida, and I will be serving as the session chair. We have ninety minutes for today’s session and four presentations. Each presentation will be allocated 15 minutes during which time the presenters may take questions at their discretion. However, once the time elapses for each presentation, we will move on to the next and ask that further questions be held until after all of the presenters have had the opportunity to present. I will stop presenters who run over their allocated time out of fairness to all. Today we'll be hearing about innovations in surveying using new technologies, useful ways to access difficult to survey populations, and how a targeted survey provided actionable information to a multifaceted nonprofit. Together, today's presentations offer both process and product lessons for improving our own surveying practices. Let's begin." Return

Introduce each presentation - example transition language: "Cori and Anu, thank you for sharing your work. Now we will turn to our colleagues from Think and Do Consulting so that we may learn about the strategies they used to access and survey homeless men and women in Detroit. Welcome!" Return

Long-winded presenters - example language: "Manuel, thank you for your time. I realize that you have more to share, but we must move on to be fair to all of the presenters. I encourage everyone to reconnect after the session, or after the conference via email, to learn more." Return

Guidelines for serving as a Discussant

While not all sessions have discussants, when one is present, that person serves a pivotal role in tying the multiple components of the session together. Discussants are expected to respond from their own base of knowledge rather than to conduct further research on a topic. However, discussants should participate in pre-conference discussions and exchange of information, and be prepared and thoughtful in their answers. As a discussant, you should strive to foster the exchange and development of ideas and the professional growth of the presenters and the audience.


Pre-conference: We are asking all session chairs to connect with the presenters in their sessions, including any discussants, as a group via email, before the conference. Pre-conference, as a discussant you should:

  • Participate in pre-conference discussion: The pre-conference exchange will give you the opportunity to learn about the session content and prepare remarks.

  • Review materials: We are encouraging, but not requiring, the exchange of materials (notes, slides, resources, papers) among presenters pre-conference. Take the time to review the materials to familiarize yourself with the session content.

  • Be a mentor: Often, discussants are more senior or more experienced. Provide guidance, where appropriate, regarding questions that might be raised by attendees, resources that might strengthen a presentation, and what to expect at the conference and session.

  • Air concerns: If you have concerns about a presentation (methodology, theoretical base, etc.), share them with the presenter before the conference. Be a critical friend, striving to coach and support colleagues. Encourage the presenter to have a strong response to any concerns that you intend to share at the session.

  • Prepare notes: Looking across the presentations, try to find the commonalities that weave them together.

    • Insider tip: Truly outstanding discussants may wish to prepare a resource list that fleshes out the topic and provides the audience with a take-away handout for use beyond the session. This may be drawn from your own expertise and/or supplemented by recommendations from the presenters during the pre-conference discussion.

At the session: This is your time to listen intently to each presentation, take notes, and provide your thoughtful response. At the session, as a discussant you should:

  • Arrive early: Arrive at the session early and connect with the other presenters and session chair so that the session may start on time.

  • Listen actively: Attend to each presentation, focusing on the big picture messages. Do not critique minutiae of content or delivery, but rather attend to the themes and lessons of the presentation.

    • Insider tip: Take notes. One option is to put a line down the center of a piece of paper and write brief quotes or snippets from the presentation on one side and your response on the other.

    • Insider tip: Consider using post-its for your notes that may be rearranged on the spot to sequence your response.

  • Respond thoughtfully: Especially in paper presentations, you are the linchpin that ties together the many, sometimes disparate, presentations. A few dos and don'ts:


    • Succinctly identify common themes among the presentations

    • Tie the presentations to a broader context

      • Insider tip: Read the newspaper and consider whether recent developments in the news may tie in to the session content.

    • Critique rather than deride, taking on the role of a 'critical friend'

    • Emphasize application and ways to learn more about the topic


  • Restate what each presenter said - the presenter's have already done that

  • Walk through each presentation in turn with a detailed response

  • Give an additional presentation on the topic - you are responding to what you heard

  • Stay on time: Stick to the time agreed upon during the pre-conference exchange in order to be respectful of the presenter's and audience's desire to interact.

Guidelines for serving as a Presenter

Presenters share their knowledge and expertise through the 500+ presentations at the event. As such, you are the backbone of the conference. Presenters need to prepare in advance, deliver content articulately and concisely, and follow-up to build knowledge networks. Please note that the guidelines below have intentionally be left broad so that they apply to all session types with the exception of posters and roundtables which are unique among AEA offerings. If you are presenting a poster, click here for poster guidelines, and if you are presenting a roundtable, click here for roundtable guidelines.

Pre-conference: We are asking all session chairs to connect with the presenters in their sessions, as a group via email, before the conference. Pre-conference, as a presenter you should:

  • Participate in pre-conference discussion: The pre-conference exchange will give you the opportunity to learn about colleague's presentations as well as the session's timing and pace. It will allow you to coordinate with others in your session to limit overlap and respond to one-another's work.

  • Share materials: We are encouraging, but not requiring, the exchange of materials (notes, slides, resources, papers) among presenters, chairs, and discussants, pre-conference. Share your materials as part of the pre-conference email exchange.

  • Prepare handouts: At a minimum, you should have 50-100 copies, depending on room size, of an abstract for your presentation that includes your name and contact information, including email, for follow-up to learn more and access longer documents, including full papers for paper presentations.

    • Insider tip: Outstanding presenters include as part of their handouts a) key lessons to be learned, and b) a list of resources (web links, books, people) to learn more.

  • Prepare your presentation: Consider the time available, the audience's likely desire to ask questions, and the multiple learning styles of attendees (auditory, visual, etc.), when preparing to create a memorable and valuable presentation.

    • Identify the time allocated: As part of the ongoing pre-conference discussion, clarify the time to be allocated to your presentation. If you are presenting a paper, you will have 15 minutes. However, if you are part of a panel, demonstration, think tank, etc., then you will need to determine among the presenters how much time is to be devoted to what content.

    • Determine when questions and discussion will take place: Again, as part of the pre-conference discussion, identify the time to be devoted to questions and discussion and whether you will take questions during your presentation or only afterwards. If you are presenting a paper, you may choose to take questions during your 15 minute presentation time; however, you must cede the floor at the end of 15 minutes, and there will be an open question time at the end of the session.

    • Plan your presentation: Create an outline for yourself of the key points to be conveyed and then develop notes regarding what you wish to share relating to each key point. Develop visual aids (see below) to illustrate your key points and serve as an outline to the session.

  • Prepare slides or other visual aids: The vast majority of presenters use overhead transparencies as part of their presentation. Each room is equipped with a traditional transparency projector for plastic transparencies (NOT an LCD projector for computer-based presentations). Guidelines:

    • Type: Use at least 24 point type so that it may easily be read from across the room. Avoid italics and ALL CAPS for more than a few words as they are difficult to read.

    • Bullets: Limit yourself to at most 6 bullets per slide and 10 or so words per bullet. Describe details verbally and use the bullet points to provide an outline of key concepts.

    • Number: A rough rule of thumb is to prepare no more than one slide for every two minutes you will be presenting. This is an upper-limit. The slides are an aide, not the presentation itself.

    • Avoid acronyms, jargon, and abbreviations: Past evaluations have clearly indicated that one frustration, in particular for new and international attendees, is the use of 'insider' language, acronyms, and abbreviations that make it difficult to comprehend readily a presentation.

    • Contact information slide: Prepare one slide that you can put up at the beginning and end of the presentation with your presentation title, name, and contact information. In case you do not have enough handouts, encourage attendees to write down this information for follow-up.

      • Insider tip: Number your slides, in case they should get re-arranged or dropped, so that they may be readily re-ordered.

    • Proofread and spell-check. Spell-check and proofread. Please.

  • Practice: Practice repeatedly, alone and then in front of a colleague, to ensure that your presentation highlights key point, your delivery is clear, and you can finish within the time allocated.

    • Insider tip: Do not read from a paper or even from your notes. Practice until you can give the presentation with only a glance or two at note-cards to ensure you are on track.

At the session: This is your time to listen intently to other's presentations and to share your own knowledge and expertise. At the session, as a presenter you should:

  • Arrive early: Arrive at the session early and connect with the other presenters and session chair so that the session may start on time.

  • Identify who will be holding the timing cards: Timing cards in each room identify "3 minutes", "1 minute" and "Stop" to prompt presenters. If these will be used for your session, identify who will be holding them so that you may watch them during your presentation.

  • Give your presentation: You have already practiced and prepared - you are ready! Speak clearly, maintain eye contact with the audience, and relax. Stick to the pre-agreed upon time for your portion of the session to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to present and interact with the audience.

  • Respond to questions: Whether you take questions during your presentation or at the end, you should be prepared to respond to inquiries. Be aware of the limited time in the session and offer concise responses, noting - when appropriate - that you may be able to follow-up post-session or post-conference to continue the conversation.

  • Depart on time: At the end of the session, if there is a session following, leave the room and continue the discussion in the foyers so that the next session will have time to set up.

Post-conference: After the event is over, you likely will receive emails or calls from those who heard, or heard of, your presentation. If you were making a paper presentation, you should be prepared to email the completed paper. This is an opportunity to build your professional network and sustain the field through collegial exchange. Where appropriate,  you may want to ask those inquiring about their work to see how it might mesh with your own in ways that could be advantageous to you both.

American Evaluation Association│16 Sconticut Neck Rd #290 │Fairhaven MA 02719
1-888-232-2275 │
1-508-748-3326 │