Saturday, June 20, 2009

everything in moderation

You may be asked to moderate a panel because you're an established speaker...or not. That's one of the beauties of moderating: You can be a beginner or a seasoned speaker. That's not the issue. When it comes down to moderating, here are the considerations you (and the inviting hosts) need to assess:
  • Will you add value? This may mean your reputation in the field, your ability to fulfill any of the expectations below, or some other "secret sauce" you can add, from provocative questioning of panelists to thorough handling of the audience's issues. This expectation means you should not view a moderator's role as something less or easier than that of a panelist--if you do, you'll miss a grand opportunity to show your skills.

  • Can you control the horses and the clock? Moderators exist to keep the trains--and the panelists--on time. In addition to paying attention to how much time is left, this may mean managing panelists' expectations ahead of time. I once arrived to a moderating session to learn that one panelist had insisted on bringing and showing video. Not only was this not an option for the other panelists, the venue's limitations meant that a projection screen could be used only if it were lowered in front of the panel, blocking any view of them. Invoking my moderator status, I said the screen and projector should be whisked away. "But what if he objects?" the organizer said. "Tell him to talk to me," I said. With three panelists and a tight schedule, I knew a video would mean the difference between his promotion and time for audience questions. Getting the equipment out of the way before his arrival helped--he never asked about it.

  • How will you manage the experience?Both the audience and the speakers will be looking to you to manage the speaking experience. Speakers caught by an awkward or persistent questioner may need a rescue; audience members desperate to get a question in, ditto. Those who need to leave on time will appreciate your saying, "We have time for just one more question" a few minutes before the close. Be sure to ask the speakers in advance if there are special needs they have, like leaving at a particular time or a desire to speak to a particular issue.

  • Can you be the essential fourth speaker? Moderation doesn't mean silence, particularly if you can add to the discussion--briefly. Don't outshine your panelists, but do chime in as you move from one speaker to the next, or after a question's been answered. And if you can answer a question the speakers can't, do it.
Related posts: 4 stepping stones (including moderation) to get speaking practice

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