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At many of our events student presentations are allocated discussants or respondent. The idea behind having discussants or respondents is to help avoid any awkward silences after a talk when people are still processing it. Someone also has to ask the first question and its best that this person is identified in advance. That way it avoids a situation where the same people always speak and others hide in the shadows for the entire event. The discussant role is meant to bridge that gap and thus to ensure that everyone contributes at some point. The maximum time allocated to each discussant/respondent is 2-3 minutes.

Being a discussant at a Europaeum event:

1. Kick-start questions

The discussant or respondent is meant to kick-start the Q&A after each presentation by having prepared a question or two for the speaker (this can be done by making notes during the presentation). The response can involve a tiny summary of what was found to be interesting or particularly revealing about the paper but really ought to focus on a question and (if appropriate) some reflections on how similar topics are addressed in your own discipline. We often find that having questions from people working in different disciplines is useful to participants, which is one of the reasons whey discussants are not always from the same disciplines as the presenters.

2. Inspire others

The discussants’/respondents’ questions and comments are meant not only to help the speaker by getting them to think further about their topics. They should inspire others to come forward with their own questions and thus to start a wider discussion. Comments should be constructive (i.e. not combative) and be focused on the substantive arguments and evidence base of the paper. They should be designed to offer the speaker a chance to elaborate further on particular elements of the paper that would be of interest to the more general audience.

The speaker should think of them as an opportunity to explain things less formally that they didn’t have time to put into the main presentation.

3. Support the chair

To clarify, the role of discussant/respondent is not the same as that of session chair. The chair introduces the speaker and wraps up at the end, so those tasks are not the discussants’ responsibility.

A Q&A session moderated by the panel chair follows discussants’ comments, and the chair moderates the time of the presentation and the time of the discussant comments. The chair makes sure that those who want to ask questions can do so, monitoring the chat (if online) etc.


See also: Rules for Participating in Europaeum events.