Session Types and Roles

Session Types and Roles

We encourage you to think creatively about your presentations, design, and format to provide attendees with the best experience. Please choose a presentation type that best fits your material and utilizes your content in the greatest way. Skill-building workshops, panel discussions/roundtables, debates, expert lectures, and symposia (research paper sessions) continue to be the most popular session types at the conference.

To encourage the most diverse program possible, LERA has a restriction on the number of times any individual can appear on the conference program. We limit to one appearance per role within any given session, and there are restrictions to how many times one can appear across the entire program. There are exceptions made for plenaries, and certain other sessions (such as competitive sessions), etc. 

Tried and True Session Types

Expert Lecture: Expert lectures are formal 75-minute presentations by a SINGLE expert in the field who will share conceptual or methodological innovations through a lecture followed by a response to audience questions.

Panel: This formal, thematic, 75-minute presentation focuses on an issue facing the field of evaluation. The overall abstract is to provide a coordinated presentation by two or four panelists, and possibly a discussant, on the general topic of the panel.

Single Paper: LERA will be dedicating time for a number of paper presentations. We encourage students, those early in their careers, and those who haven’t presented at a regional or national/international meeting in the past to submit their papers for consideration. The program committee will review paper submissions. Single papers that are submitted could be incorporated into thematic paper sessions with the traditional format, or they could be included in lightning paper rounds, or in a poster session.

Symposia, or multi-paper Sessions: Multi-paper sessions include three or more paper presentations on a common theme.  Each paper presenter will have approximately 10-15 minutes to present and discuss key points. Submit for these session types only if you are a group submitting a minimum of three papers you would like to present as part of one complete multi-paper session. [Individual papers must be submitted using the “single paper paper” submission form.]

Roundtables: Roundtables are 75-minute oral presentations, which typically include 30 minutes of presentation, followed by 30 minutes of discussion and feedback. Roundtable presenters should bring targeted questions to pose to others, in order to learn from and with those attending. Roundtables are an ideal format for an in-depth discussion on a particular topic. 

Skill-Building Workshop: As part of a 75-minute session taking place during the conference, workshops teach a specific skill needed by many evaluators and include one or more exercises that let attendees practice using this skill. These sessions differ from demonstrations in that attendees will have a hands-on opportunity to practice the skill. These sessions differ from Professional Development Workshops in that they take place during the conference, are significantly shorter in length, and thus do not allow for as much breadth or depth in exploring the topic, and may be presented by someone with less facilitation experience than expected for the pre- and post-conference workshops. 

New Session Types to Consider

Birds of a Feather Gatherings: Birds of a Feather sessions are relatively small and informal gatherings designed to build networks and explore ideas. Rather than give a formal presentation, facilitators will prepare questions or ideas around a particular topic for you to discuss.

Author Meets CriticAuthor Meets Critic Sessions are designed to bring authors of recent books considered to be important contributions to the field together with discussants chosen to provide differing viewpoints. Only books published this year or last year are eligible for nomination. Our database does not currently allow for the delineated roles of "Book Author" or "Critic", but these would loosely track to "Presenter" and "Discussant".

Demonstrations: Demonstrations are formal 75-minute presentations that show how to use or apply an evaluation concept or tool. These sessions differ from Skill-Building Workshops which provide a hands-on experience.

Think Tank: A think tank is a 75-minute session focusing on a single issue or question. Initially, a chairperson orients attendees to the issue or question and relevant context. Then, attendees break into small groups to explore the issue or question and finally reconvene to share their enhanced understanding through a discussion facilitated by the chairperson. The abstract should succinctly identify the question or issue to be addressed, the relevant contextual factors, and the roles of the individual breakout groups.

Ignite Presentations: This presentation is just five minutes long, consisting of 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. These presentations are given in rapid succession, one following another - and can be extremely fun! During an hour-long session, you can see up to 10 presentations on a variety of topics.

Professional Development Workshops: Professional Development (PD) Workshops are great learning opportunities that provide attendees with in-depth lessons, group activities, and real-world case studies.

Participant Roles

Depending on the format of the session, the session will have various types of participants.


All sessions will have a session Organizer. This is the individual who organizes/crafts the session proposal and submits it to the Program Committee for consideration. This individual will correspond with the program committee during the acceptance phase. The session organizer is a "non-participatory" capacity as the organizer will not participate in the session, or otherwise be listed in the program guide (if the session is accepted). Many times, however, the organizer will include themselves in the session proposal in a participatory role such as: Chair, Moderator, Discussant, Presenter, or Panelist.

Chair or Moderator

All sessions will have either a Chair (as in the case of research paper sessions) or a Moderator (all other sessions). This individual coordinates communications with session participants leading up to the conference, and has very specific duties at the conference including introducing speakers, keeping time limits, managing transitions, and moderating Q&A. Every session must have either a Chair or a Moderator to be accepted and listed on the program, and this individual cannot also present or act as a speaker/panelist/presenter/discussant in the same session.


Specifically, chairs are associated with symposia sessions in which new research papers are being presented.


Specifically, moderators are associated with all other types of sessions where research is not the focus, and this would include: panels, roundtables, debates, skill-building workshops, demonstrations, birds of feather gatherings, etc.


At LERA, a Presenter is someone who is formally presenting the highlights and findings of a new research paper that has never yet been presented in a conference or previously published. No previously presented or published papers are allowed to be presented at a LERA conference, though a major revision (at least 60% new material) or installation, or part two, of a previous paper would be allowable.


You will not see the role of "author" delineated in the online program, but names of authors (co-authors) of research papers will be asked for when you submit a session proposal to the program committee. When a research paper is accepted to the program to be presented, it is important that all the authors of that paper get the appropriate credit, so a paper with multiple authors will list all of the co-authors, in author order, and an asterisk on the program will denote which of the authors will actually participate in the session as the "presenter" of the paper. The other authors listed are not considered to be participants of that session, unless they are assigned a participatory role (like discussant).


Panelist is our general term for a participant who will contribute to many types of sessions, other than to present a research paper. You will want to add panelists to: roundtables, debates, panels, expert lectures, skill-building workshops, etc. (Presenters only present research papers.)


Discussant is a session role that adds commentary and objectivity, background or survey information, or formal critique of work presented by the other participants in the session.

  • In the sense of an academic research paper session (or symposium), discussants supply critique of the methodologies and findings of the research paper(s) that they have been assigned, and these discussant remarks are used by the paper authors to improve their papers, especially to get the research published, etc.

  • Discussants acting in expert panels or lectures, skill-building workshops, roundtables, etc. provide feedback to panelists, and serve other capacities. Sometimes, it can be helpful to add an academic as a discussant to a workshop that has no other academic participants for background and reflection, etc.