Tips for Panel Chairs

NeMLA offers a great opportunity for graduate students to share and present their work. For some of us, NeMLA will be our first opportunity to chair a panel at a large conference. Chairing a panel is very different from being a panelist, and hopefully this list of tips and tricks will help you succeed. You can see NeMLA’s list of information for panel chairs here. Let us know if you have additions and suggestions.
We also encourage you to arrange a get-together with your panelists–don’t forget to take a photo and enter it in NeMLA’s Social Engagement Challenge.

Putting Together a Panel

  • Advertise your panel widely. Send to any applicable websites, organizations and listserves in your field, and consider looking for listserves in other fields that may add some interdisciplinarity to your panel.
  • Some examples to get you started are H-Net (, UPenn (English) (, and German CfPs (
  • Let your faculty know about your panel, as they might be able to suggest people who may be interested or listserves you are not aware of. Send your CfP to graduate school colleagues at other schools, as well. If they are not interested, they may know people who are.
  • When you send your CfP out, leave yourself enough time for a second or even a third round of advertising.
  • As you make decisions about papers to include, keep in mind the need to have a well-balanced panel with papers that fit within the stated theme and that work well together.
  • When you have made your decision about which papers to accept and which to reject, inform everyone in a polite and timely manner.
  • It is a good idea to send acceptances before rejections, so that you can invite someone else to participate in case someone turns you down or does not respond.
  • It is fine to use a form email, but do not mass email either those who are accepted or rejected. Email everyone individually and address them by name.
  • Make your decisions with enough time to give people a chance to respond to you and for you to submit your panel information. (Remember, a person can only give one paper at the conference and no panel can have more than two people from the same institution.)
  • Consider identifying one or two proposals as alternates in case someone declines or backs out.


  • Good communication is key to a successful panel. Stay in touch with your panelists. NeMLA will send updates and reminders about deadlines and scheduling, but it is a good idea to also share this information with your panelists.
  • When you have your panel finalized, share panelist information (name, affiliation, paper title) with everyone.
  • Know their needs for technology and communicate with your panelists about this
  • You should consider having your panelists submit their papers to you ahead of time (a week to ten days before the conference). This both ensures your panelists have their work more or less completed ahead of the conference and gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with their papers.


  • Plan to arrive at your panel at least 10-15 minutes early. It is also a good idea to check out the room ahead of time or the day before to familiarize yourself with its location and set-up.
  • Bring a timepiece with you. As the panel chair it falls to you to ensure your panel runs on time. A cell phone is fine but a watch or travel alarm clock looks more professional.
  • Be aware of the time you have and the number of panelists. Let your panelists know ahead of time how much time they will have (15-20 mins.) and be vigilant about keeping them to that time.
  • Bring a sign or a slip of paper with you to signal when your panelists have five minutes or one minute left.


  • One of your major tasks as a panel chair is to introduce the panelists.
  • Ask them for CVs and biographical information ahead of time and compile this information before you come to the conference.
  • You don’t need to state everything your panelists have ever done, but give the title of their paper in addition to their education, current affiliation and any major publications or awards in two or three sentences.


Q & A

  • Your other major task as a panel chair is to manage the question and answer portion of the panel. If you have managed your time appropriately, there should be fifteen to twenty minutes left over for discussion (or about five minutes per panelist).
  • You should ensure that every panelist has at least one question. If a question doesn’t come from the audience, you should be prepared to ask one.
  • If you have difficulty thinking on the spot, consider preparing some questions ahead of time (this is why it’s a good idea to ask for their papers before the conference).

© 2009 Maureen Oldham Gallagher