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.