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.