All talks have a host. Sometimes nobody knows who the host is, and sometimes the host is so incompetent that nobody can tell that s/he is the host, but still, every talk has a host. The duties of the host are:

  1. Prepare the room for the speaker.
  2. Introduce the speaker.
  3. Provide a smooth transition at the end of the talk.

Step 1 is common sense: ask the speaker what is required, then make sure all necessary projection equipment is available, erase the board, provide chalk, etc. Show up early enough to make everything ready. Inform the speaker of the amount of time allotted for the talk. Also check with the speaker how to pronounce their name.

Step 2 generally requires saying the following words: “Today’s speaker is speaker name, who will talk to us on talk title.” If there are announcements to be made, such as an upcoming meeting of the Student Physics Society, or dinner with the speaker that evening, then make the announcement before introducing the speaker. Also, if you wish to give additional information about the speaker, such as “speaker name graduated from Bucknell with a degree in Physics in 1987 and is currently a researcher at IBM,” then give that information after the person’s name and before the title of the talk.

As you announce the talk you should be in the front and center of the room. You may feel self-conscious the first few times you do this, but it is a necessary part of the procedure. Make sure that everyone has stopped talking and is sitting down before you start your announcement (Standing quietly in the center front of the room is an effective way to have everyone sit down and be quiet. Do this at the time the talk should begin, so that it can start promptly). After you say the title of the talk, sit down near the front of the room, preferably in the front row. It is not traditional to clap before the talk.

Never say “Without further ado” or similar throw-away phrases

Step 3 has two parts. First, you should start clapping as soon as the speaker has finished the talk. Often it is necessary for the host to initiate the clapping. As you are clapping, stand up and move to the front of the room, but off to the side. As the clapping stops, ask in a loud voice, “Are there any questions for our speaker?” Remain standing off to the side as the question and answer period proceeds. If there are no questions from the audience, and the speaker has not run past the allotted time, then it is good for the host to ask a question (think of one during the talk!).

Sometimes the host indicates who will ask the questions, and sometimes this is handled by the speaker. These days the majority of talks are fairly informal, and so the speaker indicates who asks the questions (but the host should make sure that nobody’s question is accidentally missed). The moment that the question period is over (you should be really quick at this point; don’t let there be a lot of silence waiting for someone to think of a question), perform your final duty by saying, “Let’s thank our speaker again,” and begin clapping.

It is traditional for the host to go up to the speaker and say a few encouraging words at the end of the talk.

If you are inviting a speaker to visit your institution, then you should provide information about the availability of projector/blackboard/whiteboard in the room where they will give their talk, as also the audience: how specialized shoudl the talk be, will students be present, etc.