Tips on effective chairing of a conference

View of a conference stage from the back of the hall
Effective chairing is a skill that needs to be practised.

Chairing a conference for the first time can be a very daunting task. Apart from ensuring that all the presenters have arrived with their presentations, you have to look after the delegates. As a chair person, you need to learn this skill to ensure success.

Chairing is a skill. One that is learnable. Follow my tips below and you will have a conference that is focused, with the right tone and one that everyone will have enjoyed.

My top tips on chairing a conference are:

  • Dress code – find out the tone of the conference and dress appropriately
  • Introduction – remember to cover:
       o Objectives of the conference
       o What the delegates will get from the conference
       o Agenda and any last minute changes
       o Reinforce the timings
       o Cover and Health & Safety notices
       o Be upbeat and positive!
  • Awareness – be alert and aware of the conference surroundings. For example:
       o Delegates are not too spread out or cramped
       o Room temperature is comfortable
       o There is adequate water / sweets on each table
       o Comfort breaks are well spaced and planned
       o Lighting and sound are correct
       o Delegates have their delegate pack and paper to make notes on
       o Speakers presentations can be clearly seen
  • Map the delegates – draw a mind map of the seating and write down the delegates name. You can then address them by name during the Questions and answer or discussions. Very effective!
  • Time keeping – make sure you keep to time throughout the conference. Good to synchronise your watch with that of the delegates!
  • Tone of voice – sound authoritative yet personal and friendly. Speak clearly yet not too loud
  • Balanced and fair – especially during Questions and answer and discussions
  • Mixing – circulate amongst delegates during breaks and lunch. Great way to find out how your event is received!
  • Plan for the unexpected – rehearse in your mind for the unexpected for example a fire alarm or delegate taken ill. In one conference, I had a false bomb scare!
  • Interruption strategy – both from the floor and how you will interrupt a speaker who has run out of time
  • Thank you – thank the speakers and delegates at the end of the conference.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, 18th September 2007.