In response to your additional questions:
A settlement conference is becomes binding if the parties agree to the settlement terms and the terms are stated "on the record" in open court.
Yes, usually only the plaintiffs' attorney and youself in pro per would hear the judge's comments about the case. Judges do not like to get in the way of the attorney-client relationship. Therefore, unless counsel request or suggest to the settlement judge, the judge will not speak with the parties themselves. As such, you should make it a point to ask the judge to speak with the parties on the other side if it seems you are at an impasse.
If the judge ordered the parties to participate in a "Mandatory Settlement Conference", then the process will be a little bit different than a mediation. A Mandatory Settlement Conference is often conducted by a sitting judge (not necessarily the trial judge). Usually, the judge meets with the attorneys (both together and again separately) in the judge's chambers. The parties usually sit in the courtroom or just outside the courtroom in the hallway, and will not see the judge unless the case has settled or is very close to settlement.
A settlement conference may refer to evidence, but it really is not a presentation of all of the evidence like in a trial.
Settlement conferences are an opportunity for the parties and attorneys to meet and confer, in good faith, about the case. I have seen all kinds of formats and arrangement for them. Perhaps the best way to reach an agreement is with a judge who is not the trial judge, where the judge can frankly and honestly provide an independent opinion. Your chances would probably be better if you retained an attorney.
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