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.