Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5 secret advantages of the panel moderator

If you've been feeling kinda sorry for panel moderators, with such a small role to play, you're not alone--but you are mistaken. Panel moderators have some great, if secret, advantages up their sleeves. You might not know them if you're new to panel moderation, but I'll bet even seasoned moderators can learn a few things from this list. (And just wait till the panelists find out.) Here are five secret advantages of the panel moderator:
  1. You get to show your expertise to advantage: As a featured performer on the panel, moderators will miss out on this bonus if they simply stick to reading the panelists' names and asking "any questions?" at the end. Instead, smart panel moderators insert a comment here and there to sum up the sense of the panel, add a choice piece of data to illustrate what two panelists have just touched on, and asked blunt questions that get to the heart of the matter. Smarter moderators introduce a theme and ask unusual questions. Don't waste this opportunity!
  2. Your speaking role is a short one: Panel moderators may be able to have the most impact in the fewest number of words. That's an advantage in terms of preparation, and also for newbies, making panel moderation one of my favorite stepping stones to help speakers get ready for bigger opportunities.
  3. You can be the audience's best friend: Moderators, if wise and deft, can keep the talkative panelist from going overtime, and can help make sure the questions have plenty of time. Your role in calling on audience members and doing triage with the questions also helps recognize that person eager to get a question in, and helps the speakers handle the onslaught.
  4. Your role is prized by conference organizers: Good panel moderators are in short supply, and you can really make a name for yourself if you can be a moderator who keeps the trains running on time, gets the panel organized and in step, and allows plenty of audience interaction. And if you can handle the odd accident, unexpected crisis or equipment failure with aplomb, you can be a moderation star, sought-after for conferences.
  5. You can say things even the panelists can't: Big thorny issues, bald controversial statements and that big elephant in the room? If the panelists can't or won't address it, the moderator surely can--and follow up by asking the panelists to weigh in. You've got special status, so don't be afraid to use it.