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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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!!


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.