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Get Involved with Programming, Part Five: Roundtable Discussions

Next up in our ongoing series on preparing a programming proposal: roundtable discussions!

In brief, roundtable discussions are led by a single moderator, and they depend on audience interaction for success. These discussions are scheduled in rooms that accommodate 20-30 attendees so that all can take an active part in the discussion, and so that it’s possible for the moderator to keep the discussion on track. Roundtables are proposed and led by Sirens attendees, so we hope you'll consider leading one, too.

If you're trying to figure out whether a topic is best suited to a roundtable or a panel, consider the degree of interactivity and the scale of participation. A roundtable is meant to be a small and highly interactive discussion among 25 people, with one person keeping order and keeping the conversation moving; the topic needs to be familiar to most of the audience.

On the other hand, a panel is meant to be a small and highly interactive discussion among 3-5 panelists, with one person keeping order and keeping the conversation moving. The topic can be more specialized, as the panelists can explain the topic as part of their discussion. For a roundtable, the interest is in the discussion the audience brings to the presentation, and for the panel, the interest is in the viewpoints, discussion and knowledge of the panelists.

Getting Started
The first step, of course, is choosing a topic. What do you think will make for an interesting discussion? Is it likely that at least a handful of attendees will be able to contribute to the discussion? Is this a topic that you feel comfortable moderating, even if the discussion becomes heated?

Your topic might be broad; for example, you might propose a roundtable on fantasy that's pushing the boundaries of the genre. It might be narrow; you might discuss characters in a particular book or series. Either way, you'll need to have some information at hand to make your proposal.

Personal Information
First, we'll ask you for some contact information (which is not shared with the vetting board). All correspondence about your proposal will be sent via e-mail, so make sure to use a contact address that you'll have through the end of 2011 and that you check regularly. We recommend that you do not use an @livejournal address, as e-mails sent to those addresses usually bounce back to us. You should also add (programming at to your safe sender list so that correspondence is delivered to your inbox.

Next, we'll ask for Name to be published for presenter on website, schedule, and program. While we ask for some personal information to allow our registrar to confirm your status as a registered attendee, we know you might want to use a different name for your presentation, whether that's a pseudonym, an online handle, or a formal name that you use professionally. (Please note that we do drop titles on our schedule and with presentation summaries, but you're welcome to note titles and professional credentials in your biography.) The "name to be published" will be the name we show to the vetting board and programming volunteers, as well be as the one connected to your presentation.

We'll allow you to specify professional affiliation. This is for those presenters who wish to note their association with a university, and occasionally, a business or professional organization if their presentation is related in some way. Some people use this field, and others don't.

Finally, we'll need your biography. Tell us, in under 100 words, a little about you. A couple of sentences is fine! You can explain any experience or studies--or even long-term interest--in your topic, tell us where you're going to school, or what you do as a job or as a hobby. Shorter is better, because space is limited.

Proposal Information
There are three items that you'll need for a complete panel proposal.

First, you'll need a title. Remember that this will be shown to the vetting board, so neither "Untitled" nor "TBA" is a good title idea! On the other hand, you don't have to come up with an obscure or witty title--just one that explains what your roundtable is about.

Next, you'll need a summary of no more than 100 words. This is the very short version of your presentation that will be published in the program book and on the Sirens website. Here's one example:
This roundtable will discuss the character of Luna Lovegood, particularly what we learn about her in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We knew she was a little ditzy, a little unconventional, but in the final book, we find out a great deal more. Let's discuss the girl who isn’t a fighter, but who is integral to Dumbledore’s Army.

Finally, you'll need an abstract of no more than 500 words. An abstract is a complete--but short--version of your presentation. For roundtable discussions, however, you have the option of submitting sample discussion questions instead of an abstract, and this option is highly recommended. You'll need at least ten thoughtful questions. An example is included below.

1. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Luna refuses to be bullied, in part because she does not respond to that sort of attention. How does this illuminate her decision to become part of Dumbledore's Army?

2. Do you think she's inclined toward resistance due to her beliefs about what is right, or because she's already inclined to be unconventional?

3. How has Harry's understanding of and relationship with Luna changed over the last few books? What about Luna's relationship with other members of The Six?

4. J. K. Rowling uses Luna as the commentator for the last Quidditch match we see in the books. Why Luna? What particular meta commentary can only Luna make here? What other characters might have worked in the same role, if not Luna?

5. What role do you think Luna played in Dumbledore's Army at Hogwarts during
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?

6. How do you think Luna responded to punishment she received while at Hogwarts during
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?

7. We finally meet someone from Luna's family: Xenophilius Lovegood. Is this the home life you'd imagined for Luna?

8. During the Battle of Hogwarts, Luna is briefly matched against Bellatrix with Hermione and Ginny. Is there something more here--is this partly because Bellatrix and Luna are both guided by faith, or perhaps to show Luna as having "grrl power"?

9. Many of the women in the Harry Potter series could be said to represent ideas for Harry--love, family, etc. What does Luna represent?

10. J. K. Rowling has mentioned in an interview that she imagines Luna going on to become a naturalist and marry a grandson of Newt Scamander. Is this what you imagined for her? What other alternatives would seem likely, given what we learned about Luna in the series?

If you’d prefer to write a formal abstract, some of the previous posts in this series included more in-depth information. View them via the programming tag on LiveJournal.

Timing and Audio-Visual Requests
If you choose to propose a roundtable discussion, these two items are filled in for you. We'll schedule roundtable discussions as 50-minute blocks. Plan for at least 40 minutes of lively discussion, and you'll probably find that audience questions and contributions easily fill 50 minutes!

Roundtable discussions are scheduled in rooms seating 20-30 attendees, so no microphone will be needed or provided, and projection is not available. Need a visual aid? Consider printing out one or two copies to pass around the room.

FAQ about Proposals for Roundtable Discussions
Do you accept all roundtable discussions?
No; we forward all proposals to the vetting board, which selects which roundtables will be accepted for Sirens.

If my roundtable discussion is declined, can you tell me why?
Unfortunately, we can’t. We simply have too many proposals, and we don’t ask the vetting board members to write up formal feedback. We can say, however, that proposals are never declined because they include unpopular opinions or controversial takes, or on the basis of personal relationships; the board is designed so that no single person accepts or declines a submission. In the past, we've found ourselves in the lucky position of having more excellent ideas than we could include.

Should I contact the vetting board about my roundtable discussion?
Please do not contact the vetting board members about your proposal. They make their decisions confidentially, and can’t answer questions about the status of your roundtable discussion. Instead, please write to (programming at

How many proposals can I make?
As many as you like. If you find that you've had a high acceptance rate and that you're overcommitted, we do request that you consider whether or not you can make that many presentations before we complete the final schedule.

What are the requirements for presenting? Do I have to be a teacher or scholar?
Our only requirement is that you be eligible to attend Sirens, which means that you must be at least 18 years old by October 6, 2011. We have no academic or professional requirements, and in the past we’ve received excellent presentations from high school students, grandmothers, professors, musicians, fans, and teachers, among others.

What is the proposal deadline?
May 7, 2011.

What if I make a proposal and it’s accepted, but I can’t come?
If you find out that you won’t be able to attend before June 7, 2011, you can ask around to see if someone can take your place. Perhaps another attendee would be willing to fill in for you at the conference if you can provide your sample questions. We appreciate it when you make an effort to ensure that your roundtable can remain on the schedule. If you’re unsure what to do, write to (programming at and we'll talk about options.

Can I change the title of my roundtable later? Can I change the format or focus of my presentation?
If you provide us with the information before the roundtable is passed on to the vetting board, then yes, you may make changes to the title or summary, as long as the focus of your roundtable is not substantially changed. You may not change your presentation’s direction or format once it has been accepted; the proposal that you entered is the one that the board approved. If you wish to make substantial changes to your presentation, and it is earlier May 7, 2011, please e-mail us to withdraw your existing presentation and then create a new one.

Can I request a specific day and time for my presentation?
Unfortunately, no. While we will take certain immovable factors into account, such as jury duty or presenting at another conference during the same weekend, we have so many presenters that we’re unable to take scheduling requests (everyone wants to present at the same time, but without being at the same time as any other presentation!). The schedule depends on our ability to create thematic tracks of presentations, our need to accommodate presenters with multiple presentations, any restrictions on space, and availability of audio-visual equipment.

Do you "track" presentations?
We make an attempt to schedule presentations into morning and afternoon tracks by theme and by type of presentation. The advantage here is that an attendee could spend half a day absorbed in a topic or theme without needing to move from room to room. It doesn't always work out that way, due to the factors we listed above.

How can I connect with other presenters or collaborators?
Please feel free to post responses here, and to check out our message boards to suggest ideas that you’d like to see someone propose, to search for collaborators, and to brainstorm topics.

Questions? Concerns? Please e-mail general queries to (help at and questions about programming to (programming at
Tags: programming

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