Conference chairperson role
Ton Soons

Conference chairperson role

A conference chairperson, whether a man or a woman, can either make or break your conference. Ok, your programme does some of the work, but the chairperson, moderator, or presenter – no matter what you call them – determines the atmosphere, focus, speed, humour, interaction, and the connection between the people.

A good conference chairperson is first and foremost the audience’s ambassador. What does the audience want? What questions do they want to ask? What practical circumstances can they or will they accept?

A conference chairperson is not the speakers’, the clients’, or the sponsors’ friend.  They are there to serve the listeners and make true contact with them. The worst chairpersons are the ones that like the sound of their own voices.


The different types of conference chairperson

There are different types of conference chairperson.  The most plentiful are the hosts or hostesses that can keep things going without understanding the conference content.  They always keep an eye on the time, make the housekeeping announcements, and introduce the next speaker and break times.  This could in fact be any adult.

The second kind of conference presenter is the one who is an expert on the material. They understand what is being said and how the audience will understand it.  This man or woman can hear controversial and non-controversial things and ask questions, to keep things fascinating.

Material expert chairpersons come in two flavours: the independent expert, who is above every other party, like a consultant or professor.   You could also ask a well-spoken and experienced person from the primary conference target group.  This person is one of the most important listeners and can ask the most practical questions from the most important guests’ perspective.


A share of the speakers’ budget

Finally, you have professional chairpersons. These are journalistically gifted people who also understand a conference’s theatrical aspects, they show a certain ‘political’ independence and are moreover skilled in interview and discussion techniques. So, if that’s important to your conference, you’ll often pick radio and TV presenters.

That last type is clearly going to require the most money from your speakers’ budget.  Unless you ignore the celebrities and go looking for undiscovered and up-and-coming talent, that is.

Don’t let the chairperson be a boring, arrogant or stammering financial burden to your project.    I have developed a few hundred conferences and have never regretted spending a large portion of the speaker’s budget on the chairperson.


The chairperson is there to serve the audience.