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.