Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Keep 'em in your back pocket: Creative questions for moderators to ask

I collect questions.

At nearly any conference I attend, I'm taking notes...on the moderators' questions, looking for creative, pointed, or fun questions I can recommend to panel moderators to keep the discussion vivid and lively.

Here's a collection of just some of the questions I recommend you try in your repertoire as a moderator, and you'll find many more creative lines of questioning in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels:

  • "Why not?" and "So what?", if delivered with precision, are brief but potent ways to get a panelist to say more, and do it in an energetic way.
  • For panels on topics of uncertainty and controversy, two questions--about skepticism and reassurance--can keep the tone constructive and civil, as well as enlightening.
  • To draw out a speaker who's skimming over something important, use this question from Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson. It's personal and effective. It's what you use when a speaker says something's a "problem," for example, without elaborating.
  • To get frank and revealing stories from speakers, use the Sheryl Crow question and ask them to describe "my favorite mistake." But there's a catch that makes it more effective.
  • Redeem this is NPR host Terry Gross's back-pocket question to get an interviewee to defend something unpopular--a task you should give your next panel. It's one of my favorites, and yields surprising answers.

Still thirsty for good questions? Try Frank Sesno's new book, Ask More, loaded with different types of questions and how to put them to use.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by VĂ©ronique Debord-Lazaro)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From the vault: Keeping panels on time: Have a 3-speaker limit

(This is an updated version of a post that appeared in 2016. I'd publish it weekly if I thought that would change things.)

Want a panel that allows plenty of time for each speaker to get her points across? Want panels that allow time for audience questions? Want a panel that ends when the schedule says it will? There's an easy solution: Limit panels to no more than three speakers, plus one moderator.

The proliferation of speakers-per-panel is one of the starkest sign of how out of control panel discussions are today. Organizers think the panel must represent the universe, include all their friends, or represent other politics. And typically, this fault is a fault of the organizer: What speaker wants to be part of a panel of 8 speakers, each with precisely 2.5 minutes to shed light on the topic? I can say that because I was invited to just such a panel, and I turned it down.

For the moderator, too many speakers is even more challenging: Introductions take more time, Q&A will be tougher to manage, and the likelihood is high that none of the speakers and few audience members will be happy afterward, no matter what you do. You can expect time limits will be ignored, particularly as speakers try to pile on to a previous comment.  That's why too many panelists is my number one reason to say "no" to a panel invitation, whether you're the moderator or the speaker.

Panels of three speakers strike the right balance between varied viewpoints and enough time for speaker and audience to consider what's being said. A three-speaker limit means you don't have to choose between ending on time, and enough time for the discussion. More than three speakers means the moderator has a job that gets tougher every time someone is added.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by U.S. Department of Education)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What panel moderators can learn from journalist moderators

One smart tactic I use to continually improve my moderation of panels is to listen to journalists' interviews. The best of them give me ideas for creative lines of questioning, handling talkative speakers, and getting better answers. On occasion, they provide cautionary tales, examples of what not to do. Here are some of the best tips for moderators that I've gleaned from journalists:
  1. Chris Wallace's moderation of a presidential debate yielded good examples of moderation that provides context, creates a conversation, and stays on topic.
  2. Terry Gross gave a great example of a creative line of questioning you can use to discuss unpopular issues, products, or tactics in your field.
  3. Matt Lauer's interview moderation became an example of interrupting a woman too much, compared to a companion interview of a man, during the election cycle.
  4. Jane Garvey demonstrated the perfect tactic for handling the long-winded interviewee and getting him to finish up, already.
  5. John Dickerson's tactic for drawing out an interviewee can help you get more out of your panelists, and keep them from making broad, unexplained statements.
  6. Megyn Kelly came in for criticism for her tough questions while moderating one of last year's presidential debates, prompting a discussion of just how tough moderators should be.
  7. Frank Sesno's new book on asking questions draws on his experience as a CNN journalist and takes a deep dive into questions. Moderators will find this useful not only for posing better questions themselves, but for understanding what's behind audience questions.

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Are your panel introductions gendered? Tips for moderators

Add this to our list of what panel moderators can do to advance gender equity at conferences: Making sure you don't undercut the women on the panel right at the start.

We're talking introductions here, specifically, whether moderators are introducing both male and female speakers with their formal titles, such as "doctor" for physicians and scientists.

Our friends at Gender Avenger shared When Doctors Are Not Called "Dr.": How Forms of Address Reveal Gender Bias, with the story of Dr. Julia Files, a physician and researcher. She reports:
A sinking feeling overtook me as I realized what had just happened.  I was an invited speaker at an event where I shared the program with three male physicians each of us presenting topics pertaining to our areas of expertise. The moderator (male) ended the program by thanking “Drs. X, Y, Z and Julia.” Wow! This wasn’t the first time I’d been inappropriately addressed by my first name in a professional setting, but it was certainly the most public and glaring example. Had he intended to strip me of my professional title? Did anyone else notice? Does this happen to other women, or is it just me? Instead of being appropriately proud of my contribution to the program I was stuck trying to process why this happened to me (again).
So the GA team pursued some research into gendered introductions, and took a special look at "grand rounds," educational weekly lectures in medical institutions where physicians share their expertise. Here's what they found:
We confirmed that whether doctors are introduced as “Dr.” depends on the gender of who introduces them. Women introducing any Grand Rounds speaker used “Dr.” virtually all the time (96%) regardless of the speaker’s gender. Men, on the other hand, were less formal overall: across all speaker introductions by men, only 2/3 ever included “Dr.”....Among introducers, there was a distinct gender difference in their use of titles: male speakers were introduced by men as “Dr.” 72% of the time, but less than half of the women were introduced as “Dr.” This is both statistically and socially significant.
Holders of non-medical doctoral degrees also experience the problem:
A top rule for moderators? Be consistent. If you're using titles, use them for all of your panelists, male and female. If you're only using first names, do the same for all. It's helpful to know the customs of the group before whom your panel is appearing, so ask the organizer if you don't know what is customary--and if what is customary also is gendered, show them how to do it right.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by aaron gilson)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Back-pocket moderator questions: "Why not?" and "So what?"

I sit through far too many panels where the broad statements of the speakers aren't challenged--even gently. For me, the audience member, that's not discussion. It's deadly boring.

Fortunately, every moderator has--or could have--some back-pocket questions ready for just such occasions. You can liven things up simply by asking "Why is that?" after a pronouncement. It's a prompt for further explanation, and perhaps, clarification.

Even better, use "Why not?" or "So what?" These questions are energizing, provocative, and require a good defense or explanation. Your tone of voice counts a lot here. With a pleasant tone, a curious "why not?" or a puzzled "so what?" don't need to add too much tension. If you're concerned about sounding rude, you can always sandwich them with additional statements, as in, "If you don't mind my asking, so what? That's a pretty common circumstance. I'd love to hear why that's important to you." A smile helps, and so does warning your panelists in advance that you are likely to come back with a "why not?" or "so what?" question, which allows them follow-up time.

Don't be afraid to make these countering questions. Often, what follows a "so what?" is an empassioned defense, a stronger opinion, or just a more cogent point.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Columbia GSAPP)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Moderators: Don't ask women panelists "as a woman" questions

I'm all over the task of providing panel moderators with creative lines of questioning, in my book and on this blog. But today, I want to ask you moderators to omit a particular question, one that comes from both male and female moderators, and is directed only at your female panelists: The dreaded "as a woman" question.

Rather than try to articulate it, I'd prefer you spend time reading what it feels like to be singled out in this way on a panel. Heather Tallis, the first woman lead scientist in the history of The Nature Conservancy, decided to explain in detail what this feels like....with a twist. Her essay, Because you're a man, describes the experience as if a man were asked that gendered question:
It’s your turn. The moderator introduces you. You don’t really hear what he says. You’re revisiting your points in your head, a final check. Then you’re on. A little tense at first, but then it flows — you are in the moment. The years of learning, struggling, critique, testing, and growing are coming out of you in a brilliant stream. You see heads nod. A man in the front row puts his phone away. You know you’re nailing it. 
And then you’re done. You look to the panelist next to you with a mix of relief and expectation. What will they say? You listen closely, knowing it will go to question and answers next, and you’re already thinking of what points you might make. 
The panelists finish. This is one of those rare panels where everyone was interesting. This is why you’ve always wanted to be on a stage like this—this is where the good stuff happens! Your thoughts are flying, you quickly sort the questions you have for the panelists so you can follow up later and the points you want to make to the crowd.
The moderator asks the first question. It’s a good one. The panel is really engaged. A small exchange starts between the panelists – a true conversation. The room feels tight, the audience is leaning in, excited by what they’re hearing. You’re eager for the next question. 
The moderator turns to you, and notes that you are a man. He asks if you can talk about why it’s important to have men in conversations like this. Can you cite any studies or give us any data on what men in particular contribute to the field or the topic?
You freeze. You wilt. Then you catch yourself and try to sit up straight again. You thought this was a panel about the topic, not about what’s inside your pants.
Tallis's article is clever on many fronts, but primarily because it serves as a reminder that we rarely hear moderators ask male panelists how they feel about a topic because they are men--so why do we do that to women? Put this article on your required reading list before you moderate another panel.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the World Travel & Tourism Council)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Great guide for moderators: @franksesno on the power of questions

If you're a panel moderator or speaker looking for an in-depth tutorial on how to frame questions--and how your audiences are framing them--look no further than the new book by journalist Frank Sesno, Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change.

I say that in part because of the moderator's role. In public speaking, no other type of speaker is expected to both ask questions and field them. We--speakers, moderators, panelists, audiences, organizers--tend to take that role for granted, and one of the marvels of this book is that it takes very little for granted when it comes to questions and questioning.

Sesno breaks questions down by type, with chapters on questions that are diagnostic, strategic, or empathetic; questions that help you bridge to another topic, confront someone, prompt creative answers, solve problems or lead with a mission; and questions for situations that are scientific, entertaining, or evaluating a life and legacy. You'll never look at questions as a generic tool again.

In addition to the chapters discussing the types of questions, there's a fantastic hands-on "questions guide" that further breaks down each category, giving you different ways to ask questions of that type. Some are big, 30,000-feet-view questions; others are more detailed and probing. He also asks journalists and other everyday questioners to share their insights on asking effective questions in a wide range of situations. And because Sesno is himself a sought-after moderator and on-stage interviewer, you'll also find real-life moderation examples.

I suspect a lot of moderators and audience members just ask questions without thinking too much about their purpose. And Sesno notes that we're all missing a lot of great content due to the questions that go unasked:
What inspired me to write this book was a number of things—being a questioner myself, doing it for a living, doing it with people from all walks of life, and seeing around me how much was left on the table because others didn’t ask questions. When I was at CNN, a senior executive joined the company, and I watched him ask no questions as he arrived. Ultimately, he was not successful. I have been on boards of trustees and I have covered presidents. And thinking about leadership, I’ve found that when you don’t ask questions, you don’t find stuff out.
After you read this book, I doubt that will be a problem. Think about this as a guide that helps you get more out of each question: better answers, better engagement, and better completion of your goals for the session.

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.