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As a session chair recently, I was to introduce a talk where the title of the talk was ungrammatical (in both the abstract and talk slides), likely due to the presenter not being a native English speaker. Two words should have been in plural when they were not, which became clear after reading the abstract.

I faced a dilemma:

  1. read the corrected title, and possibly embarrass the speaker (possibly putting them off their talk), or

  2. deliberately read the ungrammatical title.

I attempted a compromise: I acted casual, as if I wasn't reading the title word for word.

Question: How should the session chair introduce presentation titles which are ungrammatical?

I'm just wondering what's the best solution in this situation (or perhaps what I did "on the fly" was the best).

  • 15
    Your compromise of paraphrasing the title sounds pretty optimal. – Thomas supports Monica Aug 12 '17 at 6:37
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    I'd assume "and possibly embarrass the speaker" is a possible consequence of both courses of actions you suggested. – O. R. Mapper Aug 13 '17 at 11:15
43

I would not know any reason that forces chairs to read the title of the talk. On the contrary, even with grammatically correct titles, it feels rather lazy and unnatural to me. Also there is a certain kind of speaker who will read their title, no matter what you do. This is a little bit less awkward, if you haven’t read the title already.

Hence, if I am sufficiently comfortable with the subject (which I think I should be when chairing), I would always attempt to paraphrase the title. For example, suppose your title is:

How should the session chair introduce presentation title which ungrammatical?

Then I could introduce you with:

The first speaker is Rebecca J. Stones, who investigated ungrammatical presentation titles and will talk about how chairs should introduce them.

  • 4
    Perfect. And, please, at the end of the talk, don't invite the audience to "thank the speaker" because that suggests that you don't even care enough to remember their name. – David Richerby Aug 12 '17 at 11:27
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    @DavidRicherby - I strongly disagree. I cannot remember a talk where the audience wasn't asked to "thank the speaker", and it feels to me like the optimal way of putting it. Say the speaker is Dr James Smith who happens to be friends with the chair and most of the audience --- do we then thank "James" or "Dr Smith", or maybe someone else? – Jakub Konieczny Aug 12 '17 at 20:32
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    I fully agree with the answer. One addition I would make is that it's often not necessary to know anything about the subject to paraphrase the title. – Jakub Konieczny Aug 12 '17 at 20:35
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    @JakubKonieczny Maybe my field's unusually informal but "James" seems fine to me. Or turn to the speaker and address them personally: "Thank you!" and start applauding; the audience will follow. (This is tangential to the answer and question, so we should probably take this to chat if you want to discuss it further.) – David Richerby Aug 12 '17 at 20:38
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    @JakubKonieczny In my field, too, in a case like that of your example, a chair would thank "James" most of the times. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 12 '17 at 22:55
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As session chair shouldn't you have access to the presentations / titles before the actual date. That may be the right time to fix these things, right?

  • 4
    And how would you fix them? – Massimo Ortolano Aug 13 '17 at 8:18
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    @MassimoOrtolano 100% of the time, the titles of the presentations are the titles of the papers submitted to the conference and they appear on the list of accepted papers/presentations. The error should be spotted and corrected there. I never saw any presentation with different title than the one submitted. – PsySp Aug 13 '17 at 10:09
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    @PsySp, "100%" is definitely the wrong figure when interpreted across all academic fields. In mathematics conferences, often conferences do not have an associated collection of papers, and talks are presented without an associated paper. (In fact, it is much rarer that this does happen in mathematics, at least in my experience, than that it doesn't.) – LSpice Aug 13 '17 at 10:25
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    @PsySp In many fields, there are no conference papers, just short summaries or abstracts which don't get any corrections from the technical committee. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 13 '17 at 10:26
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    @PsySp For many fields (or depending on the conference), no, the TC doesn't make any suggestion for improvements or corrections, just accepts/rejects the submission as is. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 13 '17 at 10:33

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