At a Ciceronian Society conference, most sessions fall into several categories. The Plenary session is distinguished from a breakout session, because the former assumes that all attendees are present for the same thing at the same time. This may be a lecture by a single person or one of the session types below. Breakout sessions, in which attendees choose between simultaneous events, typically take one of 3 forms: a traditional panel, a roundtable, or a “author-meets-critics.”
We hope the descriptions below help you conceive of possible panels to propose. It will also help you to understand what you may be assigned to.
Traditional academic panel consists of 3-4 scholarly presentations, each given by a single author. Presentations typically last 15-20 minutes and are meant to summarize the primary question, argument, and findings/conclusion of a larger project.
Ideally, each presentation is summarizing a project that is intended for peer-reviewed publication in a scholarly journal or book, but this is certainly not a requirement. It may simply be an opportunity to “test” an idea before pursuing the project further. Presenters may also be preparing a more traditional essay for an online, non-peer-reviewed publication as well.
Summative remarks and/or a draft of the paper are typically written beforehand, and the presenter may or may not read directly from them. They may or may not use PowerPoint or some other visual aid. What’s most important is that the panelists gets their point across within the given time constraints.
Introductions to the panel and time-keeping are typically the purview of a panel “chair” who may or may not be giving their own presentation.
Finally, though not always provided, some traditional panels will have a “discussant” whose job it is to offer written feedback on the projects, and to provoke a constructive conversation between the panelists and between the panelists and the audience. The best discussants are those who are well prepared, speak as briefly as possible, offer quality feedback in writing, and who resist any tendency to upstage the rest of the panel.
When putting together a panel and giving it a title, it should be clear that there is a common theme or subject that unites the projects. It may be a common question, methodology, thinker, text, time-period, problem, context, or something similar.
A roundtable can consist of 3 or more people, with 5 being an informal standard. The group’s objective is not so much to present individual projects but to share with the audience a conversation about a central topic, question, controversy, issue, etc.
There is typically one person who serves as the primary facilitator. They introduce the individuals, and invite them all to answer a given question or respond to some prompt. Remarks may or may not be prepared beforehand. Questions and prompts are prepared by the facilitator beforehand, but they may or may not be shared with other members of the roundtable.
Despite the name of this kind of session, a table is often not involved. It’s the kind of conversation you would have around a table, but you’ve now removed it and invited an audience to listen and participate.
Quality roundtables are those in which the facilitator is well-prepared but who does not dominate the conversation. They also facilitate the discussion so that most participants get a roughly equal amount of time. The individuals selected to answer questions and respond should be those with differing perspectives or contexts. For example, a facilitator might pick people who differ in terms of education level, age, denomination, methodology, or something similar. It’s not exactly a debate, in the traditional sense, but it is an attempt to explore a central issue from multiple angles and viewpoints.
This kind of session involves about 3-5 people, including the author of some work, and 2 or more respondents. The author of a particular book or article begins the session by summarizing their argument in 15-20 minutes which the other panelists then respond to.
The author should be prepared with remarks, though they need not read prepared statements. They may use PowerPoint or some other visual aid as well.
Respondents will, preferably, be given a chance to read the article, the book, or a brief summary of the book before the session. They will then prepare brief remarks, around 15-20 minutes each, in which they constructively and respectfully respond to the author. Their response may be animated by a comprehensive dissent or it may be a critical engagement that tries to add nuance or application.
After all the respondents have been given a chance to react to the author, the author is then given a chance to respond to his or her “critics” before the discussion is opened up to the audience for additional Q&A engaging both the author and the respondents.
It’s helpful to think of these sessions less in an adversarial sense, and more as a way to strengthen and challenge the argument of a book or article. It may be thought of as a “book review’ come to life, in a sense.
Conceivably, this same format could be used for artists and others. For example, a documentary filmmaker could show a clip or a trailer or a painter could display a new work that is then the subject of constructive criticism and conversation.