Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are you doing your part? 5 resolutions for better 2016 panel discussions

I can't count high enough to tell you how many of my clients are swearing off panels--either not participating as speakers, or, if they are conference organizers, looking for alternatives. The breakdown of the panel discussion can be seen whenever one runs too long, veers off topic, fails to leave time for audience questions, or generally underwhelms by avoiding strong opinion or controversy. Audiences, organizers, speakers, and especially moderators are not satisfied. But are you doing your part to make them better?

Before you answer, consider this: Putting more effort into your panels, no matter what your role in them may be, can turn around bad results like speakers who won't contribute next time or talk too much this time, negative audience evaluations, and over time, poor attendance and lower revenue for your conference.If you've been disappointed in the panels you've contributed to or organized, it's time for a change. For 2016, let's all resolve to:
  1. Manage panels to a consistent standard: Organizers, this one's for you (although moderators and even speakers can advocate for this one). Instead of assuming everyone knows how and what you want, share a consistent set of expectations. Interview speakers and moderators with your expectations list in hand, and only sign up those who agree. Then check in to make sure your expectations will be met, and include those guidelines in your evaluation questions.
  2. Invest in better preparation: Moderators should shine here, having early and late-in-the-process calls with panelists to manage expectations, content, and how Q&A will be handled. 
  3. Establish a "no slides for panels" policy: There's no better way to encourage sparkling discussion and stay on time. Organizers, moderators, and speakers need to take this vow--and if you do, you can expect the audience to thank you.
  4. Allow 50% of the allotted time for questions from the audience: As a speaker coach and as an audience member, I'm horrified at the number of speakers I encounter who assume they can leave as little as 5 minutes out of 60 for questions--or run overtime, taking up all the time allotted with no questions possible. It's the easiest fix to make to improve your conference's evaluations, and to improve the discussion in any panel.
  5. Manage to a strict "on time and on topic" measure: Moderators play the key role here in real time, but organizers and speakers can do their part to keep this resolution alive. Again, audiences will thank you.
If you want to improve panel discussions, give your organizers, speakers, and moderators 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 help you achieve all of these resolutions, with detailed tips, ideas, examples, and instructions for advance preparation as well as real-time management of a panel in progress. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.


(Creative Commons licensed photo by International Transport Forum)


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our top 10 posts on moderating panels for 2015

Moderating Panels hasn't quite been around for a full year, but it's been a busy one, with moderators under attack in the U.S. presidential debates and other forums. Here are the posts you read the most this year about these challenging moderation tasks and issues:
  1. A journalist asks: Should we reconsider moderating panels? looked a the sometimes-muddy boundaries between journalists and the organizations for which they serve as panel moderators. A must-read for conference organizers.
  2. A reader writes: Moderating my first panel at Beyond the Code 15 shared reader Cate Huston's experience, using my ebook as a guide--for herself, and for her panelists. 
  3. Using panels and moderation as stepping stones to larger speaking gigs shared a strategy popular with many who relish speaking less as a starting approach. Just keep in mind that moderation can be even more difficult than those big gigs you seek!
  4. Trump-ing the panel: When one speaker talks more than the others uses data from a Republican presidential debate, and shares everyday strategies in case this happens on your panel. 
  5. When moderators need to speed the questioner, or the questioned focuses on Q&A, where you may be faced with a long-winded audience member--or panelist giving an answer. How to handle both. 
  6. Want more consistent conference quality? Start with the moderators is aimed at conference organizers and event planners. Get a consistent approach to moderation going, and your sessions will stay on time and on topic, yielding better audience reviews.
  7. When should you turn down an offer to moderate a panel? 9 times shares my foolproof list for those moments when you can say "no, thanks" with no regrets, because not all moderation opportunities are created equal.
  8. Yes, you can: Avoiding 'what she said' on a panel helps moderators fend off the panelists who want to reiterate...and reiterate...and reiterate. Smart tactics for your back pocket, right here.
  9. Toward better panel introductions sheds light on a better way to introduce speakers--to make them, and the moderator, shine. You'll get a better panel discussion from your speakers in the bargain.
  10. 6 smart ways for moderators to interrupt speakers not only acknowledges the inevitable, but helps you pull it off with grace and mastery.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Cleft Clips)

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, December 8, 2015

When the panel gets away from the moderator: Are you ready?

In Some juicy controversy: Moderating the panel at Annie Appleseed, cancer survivor Tami Boehmer shares a cautionary tale about her first experience as a panel moderator...and how the panel got away from her when the discussion was opened to questions from the audience. She described one speaker's remarks, her own reaction to them, and the unexpected backlash from the first questioners this way:
It all seemed like a no-brainer to me, so I wasn’t prepared when the first two audience members who went up to the microphone used it as an opportunity to criticize Susan’s talk. It was a very emotional and angry reaction. The basic gist was that by presenting the topic in this manner, Susan was blaming cancer patients. It was old data and therefore inaccurate. She should have re-focused it and just shared techniques for coping with stress related to cancer. I’ve been attacked in a similar way by some members of the cancer community who believe I’m “blaming the victim” when I share the common attributes of cancer survivors I’ve interviewed who beat the odds. And I was shocked then, too. Luckily several people stood up and supported Susan’s talk. I wrapped up the session by expressing my support of Susan’s points and asking audience members to not look at it as a “blame game,” but as an opportunity to transform their lives.
Whenever you know your panel's topic is likely to have passionate audience members with distinct points of view, there's a chance you'll have such a clash between the audience and the panel. Rather than be taken by surprise, moderators should use their pre-panel consultations with panelists to ask about controversial issues and questions they expect or are concerned about, and how audience members might respond. I recommend a conference call with panelists early in the planning process, and another closer to the date of the actual panel for just this reason--news events or other factors can add controversy to your topic as the date draws closer.

Clever moderators with controversial topics also can try one of my favorite tactics: Start, rather than end, with audience questions. Say you'll take 5 minutes of audience questions at the start, to be sure you get them all on the table. Then it's your job as moderator to make sure those questions get answers, either on the spot if the answers are quick, or afterwards. You can then proceed with the panel, and follow with Q&A as usual--except you'll take those initial questions first, if they weren't dealt with upfront. You'd be surprised at how well this works with audiences. After all, they come to panel discussions with things to discuss.

It also helps to remember that you're a moderator, not a problem-solver. You don't need to agree with every questioner, nor do your panelists. Part of your job is to let people be heard, whether they're on the panel or in the audience. A neutral response along the lines of "Thanks for sharing that point of view. You're giving us a good example of how conplex this issue really is," will go a long way to keeping the discussion moving.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by David Calhoun)

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, December 1, 2015

Thank outside the box: Better gifts for moderators

That pen and pencil set or mug is so 20th century, dear conference organizers. If you want to thank your panel moderators, thank outside the box with these creative gift ideas:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by BCLT Berkeley Law)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

3 reasons why moderator intros shouldn't steal the speakers' best content

Believe it or not, speakers, I got some pushback on my post Toward better panel introductions, in which I advised:
Don't steal the speaker's best content: If you've done your preparation correctly, you'll know a lot of what the speakers will be saying. Don't borrow a speaker’s content for the introduction and steal her thunder. Don't tell the audience what her conclusions are or her position on an issue. Instead, focus on context-setting and expertise.
A couple of readers wrote to ask, in essence, "Why not?" They argued that the moderator should create excitement and cherry-pick the best of what she knows about the panel for the introductions.

I disagree, and so do plenty of speakers I heard from--in fact, they outnumbered the couple of moderators who advocated stealing the speakers' thunder. Let me share a few reasons why I feel so strongly about this:

  1. It's a great way to anger your panel before the panel begins: If your panel is well-prepared (and especially if it is not), taking key points away from the panelists leaves them in the position of having to say, "As Anne Marie noted in my introduction..." It's not a team-player position to take, and if you pull this rug out from under them early, don't expect them to keep to your limits on time and topic.
  2. You're ensuring there will be no drama and surprise: Speakers in general have gotten into the bad habit of "telling them what you're going to tell them," and signaling the key points at the start. But a panel discussion should unfold as a discussion. If you give away the primary content at the top of the session, why would we pay attention later? If, instead, you let the speakers bring up their strong points as the panel progresses, you're ensuring better attention throughout the panel--and better discussion.
  3. It's not about you, moderators: I understand that moderators, too, want their moment in the spotlight. But the content you're disclosing belongs to someone else. How about writing great introductions that don't require you to steal thunder or borrow content, perhaps sharing your own perspective on the speaker and the topic? That would be more authentic and diplomatic.

If you follow the advice in my ebook, your moderation will give you the chance to know upfront most of what the speakers intend to say. That's a privilege you shouldn't squander on an introduction, moderators. I hope every speaker who's had their topic hijacked by the moderator will share this post, so we can get general agreement that this isn't a best practice.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the U.S. Mission Geneva)

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, November 10, 2015

Should the moderator introduce herself?

My coaching client was moderating a major press conference for her company, and her script had the required regulatory language, introductions for each of the executive speakers, and a preview of the day's events. The only thing missing? The script didn't include an introduction for herself.

When I pointed out the omission, she questioned whether she really needed to introduce herself--it felt awkward. It might have been another case of a woman speaker who feels she should be a backup singer, not a lead performer. But I think the moderator, of all the speakers, needs an intro. Here's why:
  • It's part of the official record: Especially for investor meetings or press conferences, the moderator's remarks are part of the official record. And those remarks need an identifier.
  • It's a courtesy to the audience: Your audience may have a program in hand, but it's important to verbally introduce yourself along with the other speakers. It helps audience members keep track of who's doing what, connecting faces with names. And because the moderator is the audience's guide, how will they ask a question or get your attention if they can't call you by name?
  • It appropriately reflects your role as a frequent speaker that day: As the person who may appear most frequently as a speaker, the moderator, of all people, needs an introduction.
But what you were really wondering is whether it's possible to give yourself an introduction that isn't too braggy or over the top? You bet it is. In this instance, in fact, simply stating her name and title would suffice. Read my posts on The Eloquent Woman blog about when you have to introduce yourself, and how to take charge of your introduction for more specifics and ideas on introducing yourself without sounding too pompous.

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

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, November 3, 2015

First, let's kill all the moderators? Republican debate prompts revolt

Watch out, moderators: When the speakers in U.S. political debates don't like the questions, you may get fired. Here's how the New York Times led its coverage of the conflict:
With 10 Republican presidential candidates together at a forum on Saturday, three days after their raucous debate in Colorado, several took shots at their new common enemy: the debate moderators, eliciting loud applause from hundreds of Iowa voters.
Candidates took jabs at the questions they disliked and some suggested a roster of decidedly conservative Republican journalists and talk-show hosts for the next moderator role, while the party canceled its next scheduled debate with an associated network. At least one liberal observer concurred, suggesting that it would convince more people to vote for the Democrats.

I don't know about that, but I do know that a speaker who can answer a strong question from a moderator (ideally one who isn't fawning over the panelists) looks better, stronger, and more in command--whether you're running for office or just trying to convince a professional audience of your viewpoint. Speakers should hope for challenging questions, the kind that let them counter the question's premise with a compelling argument in a different direction. Agreement generally takes less time, and gives speakers less of an opportunity to make a mark. Instead of using moderator choice to stack the deck, so to speak, it's useful to show any audience (especially voters) that you're capable of handling more than yes-moderators who agree with you. In lieu of blaming the moderator when an exchange ends poorly, you might consider what's recommended in this TEDx talk about effective arguments: Having an exit strategy for your argument.

We talk a lot about creating a sparkling discussion in any panel discussion, and it's certainly essential in a debate. To sparkle rather than hum or yawn, that discussion should include varying points of view and, most of the time, it's the moderator's job to seek them out. Consider the definition of debate: As a noun, it's a "formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward." As a verb, it means to "argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner." For candidates for public office, there's another imperative to follow. If you can't show us what distinguishes you from others--even if that's only the moderator--how will we know what we're voting for? And if you're on a panel discussion saying, "Of course, I agree with Fred" all the time, will you get invited back? Sparring with the moderator might just be your ticket to attention and identity in a crowded field, whether that field is your panel or the nation. Moderators, stay the course and keep that discussion going.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Paul Dietzl II)

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, October 27, 2015

TechCrunch moderator and Facebook VP offer 'my favorite mistake' example

While it wasn't quite a panel, the on-stage interview of Facebook vice president Andrew Bosworth at TechCrunch Disrupt recently offered a great example of one of my favorite moderator topics: My favorite mistake.

Moderator Josh Constine framed it differently, asking whether Facebook owed users an apology, specifically page owners who'd bought "page like" ads. It was Bosworth who reframed it, answering, "I wish we could go back years and change the pitch we brought to advertisers. We really didn’t anticipate this feud with our own growth and the content that we put in the News Feed. There is good news here, though. If you look at the narrative, we have real business results."

It's a good example for speakers who feel put on the spot by an aggressive question, too. Reframe the situation, if you can, as your favorite mistake. It's an approach that enriches the answer and keeps you off the defensive. And on a panel, asking speakers to share their favorite mistake--one of their own--is a wonderful way to yield a surprising discussion.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TechCrunch)

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, October 20, 2015

Beyond #allmalepanels: Moderating a panel that treats gender fairly

On The Elouquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking, the issue of gender balance and panels is a frequent topic. Whether you are organizing or moderating a panel, there are plenty of examples of what not to do out there. But what actions can you take to ensure your panel treats gender in a fair way? Try adding these tactics to your to-do list:
  • Treat women panelists as professionals: Spending time with women professionals on your work-topic panel by asking them about their children and domestic lives is insulting, as Dreamforce found out in this disaster of a panel. Use that great rule of thumb: Would you ask a male executive the same question? 
  • Moderate panels where you understand the main topic: This writer notes that the moderator needs to be comfortable with the topic if she's going to avoid chatting about family topics with female tech experts. At the Fortune Brainstorm conference, a non-tech moderator chose to ask female tech execs about their children, perhaps because tech topics aren't her strong suit. 
  • Make sure you're not a visual token as a moderator: No one's fonder of a moderation role than I am--except when that's the only role that women play at the conference. That tells me the conference wants women in visible, but smaller, speaking roles. It's one of the reasons I advise moderators to turn down requests to moderate panels. Say yes to panels with gender balance among panelists and moderators, across the board.
  • Don't moderate panels of women on women's issues: Again, a better practice is to spread women speakers on panels throughout the conference, rather than ghetto-izing their issues on an all-female panel. Limiting women speakers to all-female panels is just as bad as lots of #allmalepanels. Turn down invitations to moderate these panels, too.
  • Alternate calling on men and women in the audience: Calling on the audience is the other half of the moderator's job, and both men and women tend to call on male questioners more frequently. Alternate whom you choose to ask questions--and if you want to encourage women to speak up, announce that you will alternate calling on men and women, and why you're doing it. Then stick to that plan.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Fortune Brainstorm Tech)

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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.
(A version of this post originally appeared on The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking.)

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, October 6, 2015

A reader writes: Moderating My First Panel @beyondthecode15

(Editor's note: Reader and client Cate Huston mentioned she'd be moderating her first panel, so I encouraged her to write about it for this blog. I like the way she frames the roles of the moderator as curator, conversationalist, and coach, and of course, I'm delighted she found my book a helpful guide--for herself, and for the panelists. Next time--and I hope she does moderate again--I hope she'll draw out the conversationalist role so she feels less invisible as a moderator. Enjoy learning from her thorough-going process!)

I saw live tweets and follow up posts from Beyond the Code last year so I was really excited to be asked to speak or moderate this year. Since reading Denise’s book about moderating panels, I’ve been wanting to try out everything I’ve learned. So I was pleased, but also nervous to be moderating my first panel.

Like everyone, I’ve seen a lot of badly run panels and was determined not to be one of those! Add to my nerves: the topic was diversity in tech, a topic I normally avoid talking about. This kind of topic can be a minefield (we’ve seen it go horribly wrong), or just a series of boring platitudes. If I was going to do a panel on this topic, it had to go beyond what’s normally discussed. In fact, one write up noted that the panel started where others usually end which captures what I was aiming for.

Preparation

Even though I’ve given talks all over the world, I still get nervous. I have a simple strategy for dealing with this: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.

But usually, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to talk about! This time, I didn’t really. I knew what direction I wanted to go in, but not really much idea of what topics would best fit the panelists.

My preparation started with 1-2 hours on the phone with every panelist, talking, and taking extensive notes. I asked broad questions about their views on the current state of “diversity” conversations, like “what makes you angry?” and more specific ones like “what career advice are you ignoring?” (the shallow level of the conversation around diversity sometimes degenerates to fixing women, which results in some pretty flawed career advice). Conversation flowed, so other points came out that weren’t directly relating to questions I had asked.

Then I turned these notes into a document with broad topics (“Hiring”, “Culture”) and slotted my notes from the conversation. I shared this with panelists, and encouraged them to add to it. We had a call to discuss this.

A couple of days before the panel (specifically: on the long haul flight there) I went through the doc and wrote a suggested run through, including the kind of comments I would make to tie things together, the questions I would ask, and the points I suggested each panelist made, pulled from the longer responses.

The day before the panel, we had a rehearsal time allocated. Not everyone could make it, but I found it really helpful and I think those that did make it found it helpful, too.

At the last minute I realised that a handout of our key points and running order would be really helpful, so each panelist had one of those. I had my iPad, and I bolded who I planned to call on first, trying to balance that out, so I didn’t always start with the same person.

Organisation

I pushed off a lot of organisational stuff onto the conference organisers. At the best of times I’m not good at email, or coordinating multiple people’s schedules. I just asked Anna (BTC organiser) to take care of that kind of stuff, which she did far better than me! She also made sure we got our handouts (thanks Anna!)

The Roles of a Moderator

The point above about organisation is important, because I think we often expect the moderator to take on this role of corralling all these people to be in place, on time, etc. I did not take on that role. As a moderator I embraced three roles: curator, coach and conversationalist.

CURATOR

This was finding out: 1) what the panelists were opinionated about, and 2) organising it into a format that would have maximum impact. I tried to pull out the unique perspectives into my suggested points.

Goal: no-one says “I agree, and…” (yawn).

COACH

This was building a relationship with each panelist, so that I could help each of them present their most powerful, interesting selves on stage. We actually had a mantra! All day I was asking panelists “What’s our mantra?” and… well they kept forgetting it. But they demonstrated in on stage which is what matters. That manta? “Concrete, and concise”.

A couple of the panelists were worried about rambling and encouraged me to cut them off, instead I said “say half of what you think you need to, and then look at me: if you need to elaborate, I’ll tell you”.

A brief diversion about rambling: I don’t think people want to ramble, I think people do it, especially in these situations, because they lack feedback. Hence: offering that feedback. I hate interrupting people in general, but particularly for a panel of people who are more likely to be talked over in meetings, I really didn’t want to. In general my approach to things like this is very much an engineer approach: e.g. I am terrible in an emergency, so I see ensuring there aren’t emergencies to be part of my job. Here: I didn’t want to interrupt, so I tried to make it so I didn’t need to. Firstly by providing this feedback mechanism, and secondly by doing all the preparation that meant that panelists all had powerful, concrete points, to make. In the end I only needed to cut someone off once! Winning!

This was an aspect that panelists really had to choose to engage with. But a highlight for me was that one of the panelists reached out to me for extra coaching, and I gave her concrete and actionable feedback with examples. She came to the rehearsal and tried to put it into practise, and then practised by herself for the morning. By the time she was on stage her delivery was unrecognisable! She made “concrete and concise” points that were vastly more impactful as a result, and I was so incredibly proud of her.

Goal: Each panelist is interesting, and presents powerful and unique points.

CONVERSATIONALIST

This was the aspect of introducing, linking things together. Sometimes summarising with a pithy, tweetable, quote. It was also focusing my attention on the panelist who was speaking, bringing other people into the conversation, setting them up.

Goal: Conversation flows and no-one dominates the conversation.

Live Tweeting

I used to live in Ottawa, so I got to bring one of my friends along as the designated Live-Tweeter! Kelly did such a great job, as you can see in thestorify. Because of all the prep we did, we were able to make it easier for her by sharing the document we’d been working in. Also, it meant the panelists could share resources in the document and have them tweeted as they referenced them. This was really cool.

Lessons Learned

I didn’t go in with this process planned. I think I could have got better buy-in from panelists if I had been able to say up front what the preparation process would look like.

I realised the coaching aspect pretty late on: I could have framed myself better as a resource for that.

Time management is really hard for a panel and I didn’t have any way to estimate this. I ended up watching time whist it was happening, and about 3/4 through, I thought we would be about on-time and then an extra, lengthy answer, pushed us over slightly. We also didn’t have time for Q&A. For this kind of topic, having worked so hard on the framing, I was pretty nervous that audience questions would throw that off-track. With 5 panelists and a huge topic, I ended up feeling that what was prepared was so important that I didn’t want to cut any of it to gamble on an audience question! In the end people engaged on social media, and by coming up to the panelists after.

Recommending Denise’s book to all panelists was an act of genius. At the end when I thanked everyone one of them commented that because I’d encouraged them to read this book they all knew how hard I had worked! And they bought me a lovely present.

I would like a personal Live-Tweeter at future events… I’ll have to add it to my rider!!

Again?

In the last couple of hours before the panel I realized that firstly this had really challenged my control freak nature: I was nervous and wanted to prepare more but other than bugging people about “concrete and concise”, I had nothing left to do! Secondly: I have never worked so hard to be invisible. I think the panelists really appreciated me, and a lot of people complemented me on how well run the panel was, but I didn’t have the same buzz as when I give a talk and give people something to think about myself!

All in all I don’t know if I would run another panel: the prep time was comparable to prepping a talk, but I feel like I have much less to show for it. I’m super glad I did it once though, and got to connect with all my awesome panelists!

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, September 29, 2015

Calling on the audience: The other half of the moderator's job

You may think that corralling the speakers and keeping them on time is your main job, but in fact, it's only half the job description for a panel moderator. The rest involves calling on the audience and keeping the question time a major part of the sparkling discussion for which you are aiming.

I'm a big fan of allowing at least 50 percent of the panel time for questions. It's the best way to make sure your audience isn't dissatisfied by the end of the session...and often, it's the last thing that speakers think about. So it falls to the moderator to make it happen. Here are more tips for keeping questions fair and frequent:
  • Have some starter questions or follow-up questions in your back pocket: If the audience is slow to speak up or there's an obvious gap in an answer, make sure you jump in with a question of your own. You'll find several creative lines of questioning in my ebook, linked below.
  • Alternate calling on men and women: Both male and female leaders call on men more frequently. Create some balance by alternating genders when you are calling on audience members.
  • Move around the room: Don't just call on the people waggling their hands furiously in the front row. Call on people in the back, middle, and on the sides, so all can see they have a fairer chance of getting a question in edgewise. And don't call on the same person twice.
  • If there are a lot of questions, batch them: Let's say one person asks a question about an important aspect of the topic, and you can see others with their hands still up, or looking as if there's more to say on that score. You can pause the speakers and say, "If there are other questions on this specific topic, let's hear them all now before the panel responds." Feel free to put off questioners who use this opening to ask something off-topic.
  • Call on statement-makers to ask a question: Take a leaf from the book of call-in radio show hosts and interrupt a long-winded statement-maker with, "May we have your question?" If there isn't one, say, "Thanks, then, for sharing those thoughts. It's a big issue," and move on with a "Next question?"
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Geek Girl Con)

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, September 22, 2015

Yes, you can: Avoiding "what she said" on a panel

Repeat after me: If you want sparkling discussion on a panel, at some point, someone needs to disagree with--or at least differ from--someone else.

Unfortunately, too many speakers wind up saying some version of "what she said" when they attempt to chime in on a point. Also called "down-the-line" questions because that's how they move through a panel, the tactic is not just repetitive and boring for the audience, it uses up valuable time for new and different thoughts. (And it may mean your speakers aren't working hard enough.) What can a moderator do?

In Panel Discussions and Dissent, Cate Huston shares one tactic used when she was a panelist:
Speaker panels can be a bit overwhelming, because there end up being so many people on stage, which makes them a special problem. We did an interesting thing for the speaker panel at 360iDev which I think is worth talking about.  
Any question was supposed to be taken by only one panelist, and then there was a separate section of three people (including me!) for strong opinions. One of us was supposed to weigh in after, only if we disagreed.
Notice that was "one," not "all," for the responses.

Moderators can really shine when a panel has "what she said" syndrome. Here are a few more things moderators can do to avoid the problem:
  • Tell the panelists in advance that you don't want any repetitive chiming in. Even if it sounds obvious, believe me, it isn't.
  • Announce at Q&A time how you want the answers to unfold. Try "On this panel, we're going to ask the panelists not to answer questions all the way down the line, unless they disagree with the first respondent. We want to allow time for many views, so speakers, help me out." Or, try this: "Only one speaker will answer each question, so we can keep the discussion moving forward. Speakers and audience members, help me keep this rule enforced." In this way, the audience becomes a guarantee that your speakers won't slip around that rule, and the speakers are on notice, with witnesses.
  • Give the audience a chance to disagree: After one panelist answers a question, turn to the audience and say, "I wonder if there are any dissenting views on that score from the audience?"
  • Ask a challenge question: "What if that weren't possible--then what would you do?" or a similar follow-up question might provoke different views from all the panelists.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Geek Girl Con)

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, September 15, 2015

Panel moderators, channel Sheryl Crow and ask for "My favorite mistake"

Sheryl Crow's My Favorite Mistake isn't just one of my favorite songs. It's among my favorite themes when I'm moderating a panel of speakers at a conference or meeting.

Just to be clear, I have an important rule for asking a panel of speakers to disclose their favorite mistakes: The mistake must be one of your own doing--no taking potshots at others' mistakes, just your own. And the more important the panel, the better. I moderated a group of public relations women who--along with me--had won Washington Women in Public Relations's "Washington PR Woman of the Year" award on this very theme, and the session was a smash hit. There's nothing as electric as listening to a group of speakers who have hit their professional stride describe the boulders they threw in their own paths.

If you are the moderator, here are a few more considerations to keep in mind with this provocative theme. You may wish to limit social media posts during such a session, to further encourage the panel's frankness. Get yourself and the panel ready for equally open questions from the audience--once the panel opens up, you can expect the audience to do the same. And certainly, the moderator should discuss the topic with each panelist individually, or with the entire panel as a group, so there are no surprises. This isn't a topic to pull out at the last moment with no notice, and you'll get better answers if you let the panel get used to the idea ahead of time.

You'll find many more panel themes and creative lines of questioning for panels in my ebook on moderating, at the link below. Start thinking about your own favorite mistake if you're going to moderate such a panel. It makes a great statement if the moderator is as willing as the panelists are to disclose that mistake!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Cliff)

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, September 1, 2015

Creative lines of questioning for moderators: Redeem this

I've got creative panel themes and creative lines of questioning for moderators--15 of each--in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. But I admit that my favorite line of questioning is cribbed from NPR Fresh Air radio host Terry Gross. I'm happy to give her credit: The host of an hour-long interview show about the arts, society, politics, and more, Gross is a deft interviewer, and an on-air interviewer is a great model for a panel moderator--particularly a panel moderator who needs to learn to interrupt, ask questions, and serve as a true guide for the discussion.

Gross from time to time asks her interview subjects to "redeem this," and I think that's a great question for a group of panel speakers. Here's how it works: Ask each speaker to pick an unpopular practice, item or tool that they happen to like a lot, and redeem it--telling the audience why they think its charms have been unfairly overlooked. As moderator, you also could choose the item or practice to be redeemed and ask the panel to defend it.

What would that look like? Here are a few examples I can think of:
  • An IT specialist might redeem a much-hated piece of software
  • A food critic might defend the street hot dog or similar fare
  • A television producer might justify a famously bad sitcom
You could ask each speaker to redeem something specific, or ask all of them to redeem the same thing. Think of topics that qualify as professional guilty pleasures, or things everyone uses but no one will admit to using, or out-of-fashion but once popular approaches. All are potential fodder for a "redeem this" panel theme or line of questioning. Have fun with this one! It has the advantage of surprise, and will yield unusual answers from your panel. And isn't that what the audience is hoping for?

Go here to read more NPR Fresh Air interviews. Who knows what lines of questioning or themes you'll find for your next panel? Find 14 more like this one in my ebook, which you can order at the link below.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Adam Schwelgert)

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, August 25, 2015

Want more consistent conference quality? Start with the moderators

When I first thought about publishing a book on moderating panels, I knew it could help individual speakers, from newbie moderators to seasoned pros. But then conference organizers and event pros, hearing about my idea, would say, "You write that, and I'll buy one for every one of our moderators."

Why? They were from government agencies, corporations, nonprofits, membership organizations, professional societies. They had invited appealing speakers, found great locations, wrangled the logistics. But when it came to those moments where the content took panel form, what happened varied widely.

Some panels ran overtime, or left too little time for questions. Others were flat, failing to connect. Audience ratings told the tale, most of the time, but the organizers also got in-the-moment feedback, whether from texts or Twitter. It's not that all the panels failed. It's more that the quality was inconsistent: A lively on-time panel here, three lackluster sessions, five overtime panels, and so on.

Some organizers, after those experiences, work hard to avoid putting on panel discussions. But others look for ways to elevate the level of quality and make it consistent across the term of a conference, knowing that that consistency is what attendees want to see when they experience the conference.

I think the easiest way to start that process of elevating your conference quality lies in getting the moderators to a consistent level of quality. I say that because so many people--organizers, speakers, audience members and even moderators themselves--underestimate the role of the moderator and its complexity. A good moderator is a great go-between, acting to bring organizer, speaker, and audience together to create a sparkling discussion that leaves people thinking differently, gives them new ideas they can use right away, or inspires them to try something new. If that's not happening in every room at your conference, starting with moderator training is a great way to make that happen.

The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels is ordered by plenty of individual speakers, moderators, and organizers. But I'm always pleased to see the many orders for multiple copies, sometimes as many as 50 at a time. Organizers and #eventprofs, think about skipping those speaker goodie bags and giving your moderators and speakers copies before your next conference. Your audience will thank you...

(Creative Commons licensed photo by NASA HQ)

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, August 18, 2015

Should moderators ask or avoid tough questions?

Election season in America is a boom time for moderators, illustrating my point that the moderator--particularly on a panel with many speakers--is often as prominent as any one speaker on a panel. And in the first big debate, Fox News's recent debate with 10 Republican candidates and 24 million viewers, a record audience, the three moderators stood out in particular for their tough questions.

The New York Times took notice. In an article focused squarely on the moderators, it noted:
Dredging up old misstatements. Questioning someone’s temperamental fitness to be president. Suggesting that someone else might let a woman die rather than allow her to have an abortion. 
The Republican presidential candidates’ debate on Thursday night was notable for its pointed accusations, and for the sometimes-awkward glowering and silences that followed. 
And that was just the moderators.
It's normal for elections to bring public speaking of all kinds to the forefront of our consciousness. After all, that's mostly how we get to hear the candidates, and see how they perform and react. Moderators are a close second in visibility, and this focus on whether the moderators should ask tough questions is interesting to consider even if you're not running for office.

I say that because a moderator's punch is nearly always pulled back in a typical panel discussion. I've seen scores of panels in which all the questions were softballs, courteous, supportive, elucidating--all helps to guide the speakers. Pushback or challenges to the speakers are rare. After all, you often will be moderating panels of colleagues you like and support, or notable people whose good sides you want to stay on.

In political debates, moderators tend to be journalists, and they serve as proxies for citizens. Asking tough questions of candidates is (or should be) part of the job. The idea of needing to stay on a candidate's good side does not, typically, carry the day--although it sometimes seems that way. That wasn't the case in the Fox News debate, and at least one moderator paid a price: Megyn Kelly came in for a flood of nasty comments from Donald Trump on Twitter after the debate, mostly due to her questions about his misogynistic comments about women. But the backlash against Trump's response to Kelly may derail his campaign. It's at least costing him invitations to speak elsewhere. (Speakers, there's a lesson here: Don't get angry and defensive when a moderator poses a challenging question.)

Kelly, when she finally weighed in, refused to apologize for acting like the journalist she is. Everyday panel moderators don't have to generally worry about upholding journalistic norms (unless they are journalists, of course). But that doesn't mean you should avoid a pointed question or one that challenges the speakers to clarify, or one that reminds us all of something they said earlier that seems in conflict with today's statement. That's also a hallmark of good debate moderation. The trick for the moderator is to ask those tough questions in a non-anxious way. It's your job to keep the discussion sparkling, and also to keep the speakers honest.

Want to read more about U.S. political debates, what it takes to moderate them, and everything from the moderator's viewpoint? Take a look at Jim Lehrer's book Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates. He's a veteran moderator of no less than 11 presidential debates, with plenty of insight to share.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Paul Dietzl II)

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, August 11, 2015

Trump-ing the panel: When one speaker talks more than the others

If you don't think anyone's keeping score on who speaks more or less on a panel, think again. Audiences and your fellow speakers notice--and they especially notice if it's the moderator who keeps going back to the same speaker for more.

If your panel happens to be the 10 best-polling of the Republican candidates for president, the media notice when you do that, too. In last week's debate on Fox News, Donald Trump got the nod, and ran with it, more than any other candidate. From the New York Times:
Despite the assurances from the moderators that Mr. Trump would not hijack the high-profile opportunity for the Republican field to introduce itself to America, the businessman could not be stopped. 
He received about three times as many opportunities to speak as some of his fellow candidates — a gap that left lesser-known rivals, like Ben Carson, moaning about an elusive spotlight. “I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again,” Mr. Carson said plaintively.
The Times also expressed the extra Trump time this way, in an infographic. The dark bars indicate answers longer than a minute:

There was little about this debate's conditions that emulated an ideal panel discussion. Too many speakers were included, making it more of a panel than a proper debate--and that factor alone ensures that many speakers will get little time. The plethora of speakers prompted the debate organizers to say there would be no opening statements, to save time. And there were no less than three moderators, all Fox News anchors.

In everyday panel discussions, some moderators and speakers handle the fairness and balance issue by following a practice I've come to dislike: Having every panelist answer every question, which, while fair, tends to result in responses like "As Fred just noted..." That makes the answer take up more time than it's worth, much of the time.

Instead, consider these ways to keep your calling on speakers balanced:
  • Alternate questions for the entire panel with questions for one speaker, and say out loud what you're doing when you pose the question. Then be sure each speaker gets an individual question.
  • Alternate calling on male panelists with calling on female panelists. One of the more subtle ways we make women speakers disappear is to keep calling on men almost exclusively, whether the question is for the panel or the audience.
  • Prep your speakers in advance for how you will dole out the questions. Ask them not to chime in on individual questions, and to participate in questions to the entire panel.
  • Use a timer. In the name of making sure there's enough time for Q&A, set a kitchen timer or your phone timer for 30-second answers, and make a game out of it. 
The political panels to come will winnow themselves out as candidates drop out of the race. You won't have that advantage when you're moderating--so take some time to plan for better balance when you pose questions to speakers.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Gage Skidmore. New York Times infographic.)

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, August 4, 2015

When moderators need to speed the questioner, or the questioned

When it comes to Q&A and a panel, the smart moderator gets ready for the long-winded. That goes for both the questioners in the audience, and the people who are being questioned on the panel, for whom a question may seem like an invitation to re-take the floor.

But that territory belongs to the moderator during question time. Here's how any moderator can keep the questions--and the questioned--on time and on point:
  • Reframe the question within time limits: If a long or unclear question is posed and time is short, reframe it out loud to keep the speakers focused. "Instead of talking about all your best work, since time is short, would each of you give us just one example?" or "You may have many regrets, but what's the thing you regret most?" or "I'd like the panel to focus on the first part of that question, about beginnings" are all examples of how to do this.
  • Question the audience member with the long-winded question: If an audience member rises with a question that turns out to be a long-winded statement, interrupt and say, "Please, let's have your question so that others can have a turn." No question, then? "Thanks, that's a great point to add to the discussion. Next question?"
  • Catch the speaker who's trying to expand his answer time: Some speakers, seeking to artfully get more air time, will use a question as an excuse and create an answer that leads to requesting that they show or do something more. As moderator, feel free to interrupt and say, "Fred, I wish we could show that video, but time is short. How about posting it to YouTube for us?" Don't be afraid to keep things crisp and moving forward.
There's a great section in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels on graceful ways with Q&A for moderators. Check it out! The ebook format even lets you take it onstage to use as a prompt.


(Creative Commons licensed photo by the European Wind Energy Association)

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, July 28, 2015

When should you turn down an offer to moderate a panel? 9 times

It might seem counterproductive to turn down a chance to moderate a panel. After all, it's a chance to promote yourself, your cause, your company or your career.  But in these cases, I'd advise you to at least take a second look or turn down the opportunity outright. Organizers and program chairs, listen up, lest you make these offers to your would-be moderators:
  1. When there are too many people on one panel: Panels of more than three people are fraught with peril for the speakers, the audience and the moderator. You've got to allow extra time for introductions, which may mean that you, as the moderator, will speak longer than any one panelist--a difference that will be noticed by the audience, and one that is usually forgotten by the organizer who doesn't wish to say "no" to possible panelists. You'll have to allow more time as well for Q-and-A, and, knowing they have diminished time, many speakers will simply talk past the limit. I once had an organizer ask me to join a panel of 8, and each of us were to get 2.5 minutes to speak. No way! If you're tempted:  Ask yourself what value you or the panelists can add in such a short time slot. Feel free to reassure your organizing host that a smaller panel does not mean a disaster.
  2. When all the moderators are women and all the speakers are men: Some conferences attempt to cover a lack of women speakers or attendees by putting women in high-profile but low-content roles, such as moderating panels. Ask to see the entire roster of speakers and moderators to be sure you're not just window dressing for a conference with a gender imbalance. And if yours is the only panel with women, and the topic is women’s issues, consider saying “no” to discourage this practice.
  3. When the format's prescribed too tightly: If you prefer being able to walk around the room instead of standing behind a lectern, take questions at the top rather than the bottom of the presentation, or any other variation on the standard, be sure the organizers know that and can accommodate it. Likewise, if the organizers come to you with a precisely timed list of what needs to occur when, and there's no flexibility to exercise your good judgment, you may want to reconsider. If the format's already determined for you, think through whether it really meets your needs and lets you shine--or puts you in the announcer's role, rather than that of a true moderator.
  4. When there's not enough time to prepare: On a few occasions, I've been asked to step in at the very last moment, and I have. In those clear emergencies, a seasoned panel moderator can expect to be pressed into service. I'm more concerned when the call comes in advance, but only just barely (say, 3 days before or 2 days before). Typically, that means another moderator has cancelled, or the organizers didn't plan far enough in advance. Lack of time puts you at a disadvantage. Do you want to give up your preparation time? Have you budgeted for it? Think twice before you say yes. 
  5. When the subject changes without notice: This is a clear sign that the organizers aren't taking good care of their moderator or their speakers.  I've had a few invitations pegged to a specific topic, then found out it had changed after I accepted--without hearing directly from the organizers. Be sure you take the time to reevaluate if changes are made, and feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another moderator."
  6. When the preliminary negotiations go on for longer than the panel itself: You should expect to spend time talking to the organizers about how the panel will go, speaker issues, audiovisual equipment needs and the audience in advance. But if the logistics, location, topic, length and other basics keep changing and changing yet again, you may find it's a sign that the group's too disorganized--and disrespectful of your time.  Again, feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another moderator."
  7. When it's not your area of expertise: Be honest and say so. You may be a good moderator and liked by the group, but don't stretch past your knowledge base. Don't confuse this with feeling as if you have to be "the" expert. You just need to be "an" expert. If not, say no.
  8. When your schedule gets in the way of success: You may have a clear calendar on the morning of the panel--but if you're traveling all night right before you go on, and jet lag's a problem for you, say no. Don't pile on when you know you'll be tired, rushed or otherwise not at your best.
  9. When all you ever do is moderate: At base, moderation means you are primarily presenting the ideas of others, rather than your own ideas. If you are never a speaker, but always a moderator, you may want to turn down the next moderation offer by saying, "I've moderated enough panels--but please do call me if you want a panelist or speaker on this topic."
(Creative Commons licensed photo by the International Labour Organization)

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, July 21, 2015

4 surprising things I've learned about moderating panels

If you're one of the people who thinks of panel moderation as a straightforward and clear-cut task, I admire you. My experience as a seasoned panel moderator is the opposite: Anything can, and often does, happen. All that varied experience has helped me glean some surprising skill sets, things I've learned as a panel moderator that I wouldn't have guessed I needed when I started out. They include:
  1. Panel moderation isn't just for beginning speakers: Moderating has at least on thing in common with being a speaker on a panel: It's an ideal stepping stone for a speaker starting out. But panels sometimes require deft on-the-spot management that only a seasoned speaker can bring.
  2. Introducing panelists well takes work: One of the biggest missed opportunities I see in panel moderators, introductions should be much more than reading the bio the speaker just handed you. What's more, intros are a great way for moderators to shine. Passing that up would be a mistake.
  3. Organizers and speakers aren't always on the same page: And the moderator's in the middle. Juggling those two sets of expectations, and those of the audience, will be one of your biggest challenges.
  4. You've got to be willing to interrupt: When moderators lose muscle, they don't rein in the speakers...and the audience (and the organizers) lose. Learning smart ways to interrupt speakers on your panel is a critical skill.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Novartis AG)

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, July 14, 2015

Conference organizers & #eventprofs: Set up panel moderators for success

An experienced speaker, Guy Kawasaki thinks moderating panels is "deceptively hard--harder, in fact, than keynoting," in part because it's usually the conference organizer who selects the panel, and often does so without consulting the moderator. That's one way conference organizers can set panel moderators up to succeed or fail.

But it's not the only one. Here are the factors I wish more conference organizers would include in their planning when it comes to panel moderators:
  • Inviting too many speakers on one panel: Your desire to hand out speaking roles like awards does not make for a good panel, organizers--and makes the moderator's job nearly impossible. Limit panels to 3 speakers, please.
  • Not facilitating advance calls with panelists and moderators: Organizers should make it easy for the moderator to do advance calls with the panelists--one well ahead, another closer to the date. Organizers need not participate in these calls, but they should make them possible.
  • Failing to back up the moderator when she sets limits: If your moderator's smart enough to set limits such as no slides, time limits for speakers, or other needed controls, back her up. They're all tools she can use to keep the panel on time and on topic. Don't let speakers bargain behind her back. Or, consult with the moderator and join her in setting these limits.
  • Changing parameters over and over, or at the last minute: If the organizer keeps changing basic factors about the panel, such as the topic, time allotted, number of speakers, and more, you can expect seasoned moderators like myself to bow out. It's impossible for a moderator to plan her role if you keep moving the goal posts.
  • Not setting a standard: Moderating is another of those public speaking skills that most people pick up by watching....which means that most moderators aren't great when the panel goes off the rails. Give your moderators a joint prep session, conference call, or copies of The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. (And while you're at it, get a copy for yourself so you know what to ask for.) You'll see better audience ratings and happier speakers, among other benefits.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by NASA HQ)

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, July 7, 2015

Karen Catlin's The Best Panel Ever: A How-to Guide

Karen Catlin, a consultant and advocate for women in the tech industry, has published The Best Panel Ever: A How-To Guide on LinkedIn. I think she nails the experience most of us have had while watching a panel discussion:
We’ve all been there. Enthusiastic about going to a panel only to be disappointed once it starts. Perhaps the introductions are long-winded. Or the panelists seem to be lacking synergy. Or the moderator can’t seem to keep the conversation humming along. 
We ask ourselves, "If I leave now, will anyone notice?” We wonder what hallway conversations we’re missing out on. We’re convinced there is a better panel taking place in the conference room next door. We feel trapped. 
I know. I’ve been there myself. But I’ve also been to a number of really great panels, and I've started paying attention to what I like about them. You see, I’m often asked to moderate panels, and I want to do a good job. And I think it’s working...
Catlin goes on to share her own tips for organizing, moderating, and managing Q&A. I'm delighted that she also recommends The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels for further reading and ideas. Thanks, Karen!

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, June 30, 2015

6 smart ways for moderators to interrupt speakers

Blogging on Scientopia recently, pediatric nephrologist Pascale Lane gave a glowing review of The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels, and noted "One delightful section presents smart ways to interrupt speakers, primarily so you can shut them up and stay on time, for the win."

Call it the elephant in the room where the panel is being held: Moderators need, sometimes, to interrupt speakers. No one talks about it much. Speakers dread it at some level, or at least anticipate it. And moderators, for their part, often act as if they shouldn't interrupt, even when it's clear that they need to do so. They waggle a hand below the table or behind the lectern, stare at the offending panelist, and will them, silently, to stop. Hardly surprising, is it, that these tactics aren't effective?

Instead, my book offers six smart ways for moderators to interrupt speakers. There's more detail on each of these tactics in the book:
  1. Use their names, as in "George, I hate to do this, but we need to move on." It's specific, and will get the offending speaker's attention like nothing else.
  2. Speak in "I" statements, to avoid sounding accusatory. I give you several ways to wield the vertical pronoun effectively in the book.
  3. Put a hand up, as a visual "stop" sign that all can see.
  4. Pretend to ask permission to neutralize the negative, by starting with something like "Let me ask you to stop right there."
  5. React with a question to interrupt the flow, hear the answer, then respond by drawing the speaker's time to a close.
  6. Get the audience in on the act by inviting a show of hands, discussion, or affirmation. 
Most of all, keep in mind that the audience and the organizers want you to keep the speakers on time--that's the moderator's main job. Don't hesitate to do it!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Cory Doctorow)

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.