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.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When you're the panel's Twitter moderator

The Twitter backchannel's here to stay as part of any presentation, conference or panel discussion. Audience members use tweets to describe what speakers are saying in real time, participants are announcing that they will be live-tweeting a meeting, and speakers are asking organizers "Will there be someone monitoring Twitter?" -- a step beyond just doing it themselves.

Moderation plays an important role when channeling online feedback. At conferences that were were quick to put up screens and broadcast the backchannel--without taking the time to give feedback to the speakers in real time--the organizers are finding that they've got to figure out who'll take on that task.

Speaker coach Olivia Mitchell wrote this useful and free e-book on presenting with Twitter that covers this territory, and there's more in Cliff Atkinson's book, The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. Jay Rosen added guidance from his efforts to remake a panel at SXSW, although many speakers will not want to be in charge of the Twitter moderation (he suggests having a panelist handle it). In most cases I've encountered, it's been the moderator (for panels), emcee, or a separate designated Twitter moderator, who can be arranged in advance, or pressed into service from those who are tweeting in the audience.  Let me add a few practical tips if you find yourself in this role:
  • Set up a multi-channel way to observe Twitter:  Tweetdeck and other tools like PeopleBrowsr make this easy, with the ability to set up several columns across your screen. You'll want several searches in front of you: one with the session's hashtag, one with the name of the group or its Twitter handle, one for each speaker (name or Twitter handle), and one for retweets (RTs) of the session items.
  • Pay attention to which tweets are in the room, or beyond it:  Those able to tweet fastest and most comprehensively will be in the room, and it's their tweets about room conditions, audio and other problems you should be focused on first.  But keep an eye out for tweets from beyond the room, especially with questions. They're working with less context and their questions may need more detail--so alert the speakers when you convey the question.
  • Figure out how and when to alert the speaker or panel to a Twitter question or issue:  You can call a few "Twitter breaks" to let people in the room tweet while you share some questions privately with the speaker or panel; arrange in advance that you'll raise your hand or a white card when you want to share Twitter questions; or just pass a note to the speaker to "speed up" or "go back and explain part one again."  Make sure you and the speakers know how this will be handled before they start talking.
  • Remember to holler back down the channel:  Be sure to send a reply that lets the questioner know his or her query has an answer, once it's been shared in the room.  Close that loop.  The same goes for alerting the in-room crowd on Twitter that issues have been fixed--don't just announce it out loud, correct it on Twitter.
  • Encourage other tweeters in the audience to share questions they get:  Not everyone "listening in" will use the hashtag or other official channels. Some tweeters' followers will just contact them directly.  At the start of the session, invite them to share those questions, too.
  • Don't neglect either audience.  The folks in the room should not feel you're only taking questions from Twitter, and those on Twitter shouldn't feel like they're talking to a brick wall.  This is why I encourage panels to use a separate moderator for Twitter, so another traditional moderator can scan the room for the live audience's feedback.  What you choose to do will depend on the size of your audience, the outside-the-room interest in the speakers (tough to gauge ahead of time), and the skills of your panel, emcee and moderator.  Remember, even a small group can generate a lot of tweets and comments in a short time.
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, March 28, 2017

5 last-minute moderator tasks before the panel starts

Even if you've done all the advance prep I recommend in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels, what moderators do at the last minute, just before the panel starts, can often make or break the whole experience--for the organizers, for you, for the speakers, and for the audience. Here's my handy back-pocket checklist with 5 things to check right before you begin:
  1. Meet the panelists: Make sure they know you're the moderator, and chat with them if you don't already know them (and even if you do). Has anything changed about their presentations or expectations? Is this a special day for one of them? Do they have last-minute concerns? You won't know unless you ask. Make sure it's clear to the panelists that you're in charge, and that you intend to moderate them fairly and on time.
  2. Find out what's missing: Did anyone leave their bio, slides, or technology at home? Are all the speakers there? Did someone fail to provide all the audio-visual equipment requested? Did someone show up with 3 videos when there's no way to project them? Doing this check even 15 minutes before the panel gives you the chance to fix or fill the missing gap--or figure out a workaround. Don't fail to say, "We didn't plan on showing videos, so we won't be able to use them. Can you speak about them instead?"
  3. Make friends with the support team: Whether it's a group of volunteer amateurs or a professional sound and video crew and housekeeping department, find and introduce yourself to the people to whom you can turn in an emergency, from microphones that don't work to coffee cups that need to be cleared out of the panel's way.
  4. Review the bios: Scan your introductory material one more time before the panel begins. Did you learn anything in chatting with the speakers that will make the intros better?
  5. Watch the clock: Moderators need to be a step ahead. Leave a previous session early if you need to, or finish your lunch faster than the group.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)

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, March 21, 2017

A creative line of questioning for panels in controversial times

My ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels, has a long list of creative lines of questioning, because I think they are missing from many panels. But one of them especially suits the types of panels I think we will be having more frequently, with controversial topics and opposing points of view.

Picture it this way: You have a panel of experts who are addressing a public controversy. They may or may not agree with one another, and also are in opposition to some external force, be it political, economic, technical, or artistic. How can you, as the moderator, steer their discussion and prompt them to channel frustration, anger, and disagreement in constructive ways?

For panel situations like that, I prefer using questions such as "What makes you skeptical?" to let the panel share doubts and concerns, and "What would it take to reassure you?" to take them toward a vision of what would work, a positive complement to the complaining that may be going on. Especially effective on topics where there's a lot of enthusiasm or anger, these questions get at something more complex than just pro-and-con viewpoints. They help the audience understand what to look for to fuel doubt, and to encourage positive action. And the neutral language doesn't further inflame the topic, but helps add nuance and explanation. Try it, moderators!

(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, March 14, 2017

When the moderator meets the mob: @AKStanger speaks out

When it comes to brave moderators, no one has anything over Allison Stanger.

She's the Middlebury College professor who agreed to moderate an appearance on her campus by Charles Murray, a controversial conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The appearance was interrupted by protestors who shouted down the discussion, prompting the speaker and moderator to move to a room where it could be livestreamed, but that, too, was interrupted. And both Murray and Stanger were attacked by the protestors. For Stanger, the moderator, the result was a concussion, whiplash, and the need to wear a neck brace.

But this moderator is no shrinking violet. Yesterday, she published Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury That Gave Me a Concussion in the New York Times, and while what she experienced might make you reconsider moderating anything controversial, I hope you'll read it--not just to learn what happened, but to learn about why moderation is important.

From the article, she establishes her reason for participating:
Though he is someone with whom I disagree, I welcomed the opportunity to moderate a talk with him on campus on March 2 because several of my students asked me to do so. They know I am a Democrat, but the college courses I teach are nonpartisan. As I wrote on Facebook immediately after the incident, this was a chance to demonstrate publicly a commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom. But Dr. Murray was drowned out by students who never let him speak, and he and I were attacked and intimidated while trying to leave campus.
And here's the chilling paragraph about what happened when they attempted, finally, to leave the scene:
Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm to shield him and to make sure we stayed together, the crowd turned on me. Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. I feared for my life. Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them. I am still wearing a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash.
Stanger comes down firmly on the importance of letting an unpopular speaker speak, and have moderation. She describes clearly what a good exchange of views might have looked like:
But for us to engage with one another as fellow human beings — even on issues where we passionately disagree — we need reason, not just emotions. Middlebury students could have learned from identifying flawed assumptions or logical shortcomings in Dr. Murray’s arguments. They could have challenged him in the Q. and A. If the ways in which his misinterpreted ideas have been weaponized precluded hearing him out, students also had the option of protesting outside, walking out of the talk or simply refusing to attend.
In reading what Stanger has to say--and I'm glad she spoke up about the experience--I hear a true moderator: Someone who need not agree with the person or panel she is moderating, but who is committed to the discussion with that person and the audience. And those are great goals for any moderator.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by evinella)

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, March 7, 2017

When they try to make the moderator fill in for a panelist

Get ready to encounter this last-minute request if you're a panel moderator: "Can you act as a panelist as well as the moderator? Jane isn't going to be able to make it."

It's that no-show panelist that most often prompts organizers to make this request, perhaps because they imagine the smaller panel won't be able to fill the time. They also may be prompted by your expertise in the topic at hand. And let's face it: The organizer is bound to be disappointed by the loss of what she hoped that panelist would contribute.

But serving as a moderator-plus-panelist puts you as moderator into an awkward role, and you shouldn't be afraid to say so. Are you in charge of others' speaking times as well as your own? Yes, but don't expect that to be popular. Will the combination of your moderator speaking tasks and your panelist time make it feel as if you're talking too much? Also yes, most of the time.

Be sure to ask enough questions ahead of time to determine whether you might be called upon to fill this role, so you can prepare. (That might look like, "In the event a panelist cancels, I would plan to be ready to moderate with fewer speakers. Do you agree?") Make sure, too, that you're giving the other panelists plenty of time.

But primarily, my advice is to push back on the idea that another panelist is needed. If what you are left with is two panelists, treat it like a dual interview, and allow plenty of time for audience questions, something that's usually more welcome. Feel free to suggest that to the organizer ahead of time, and by the time the panelist begs off, it won't seem like such a strange idea.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Plaid Cymru)

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.