Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are you doing your part? 5 resolutions for better 2016 panel discussions

I can't count high enough to tell you how many of my clients are swearing off panels--either not participating as speakers, or, if they are conference organizers, looking for alternatives. The breakdown of the panel discussion can be seen whenever one runs too long, veers off topic, fails to leave time for audience questions, or generally underwhelms by avoiding strong opinion or controversy. Audiences, organizers, speakers, and especially moderators are not satisfied. But are you doing your part to make them better?

Before you answer, consider this: Putting more effort into your panels, no matter what your role in them may be, can turn around bad results like speakers who won't contribute next time or talk too much this time, negative audience evaluations, and over time, poor attendance and lower revenue for your conference.If you've been disappointed in the panels you've contributed to or organized, it's time for a change. For 2016, let's all resolve to:
  1. Manage panels to a consistent standard: Organizers, this one's for you (although moderators and even speakers can advocate for this one). Instead of assuming everyone knows how and what you want, share a consistent set of expectations. Interview speakers and moderators with your expectations list in hand, and only sign up those who agree. Then check in to make sure your expectations will be met, and include those guidelines in your evaluation questions.
  2. Invest in better preparation: Moderators should shine here, having early and late-in-the-process calls with panelists to manage expectations, content, and how Q&A will be handled. 
  3. Establish a "no slides for panels" policy: There's no better way to encourage sparkling discussion and stay on time. Organizers, moderators, and speakers need to take this vow--and if you do, you can expect the audience to thank you.
  4. Allow 50% of the allotted time for questions from the audience: As a speaker coach and as an audience member, I'm horrified at the number of speakers I encounter who assume they can leave as little as 5 minutes out of 60 for questions--or run overtime, taking up all the time allotted with no questions possible. It's the easiest fix to make to improve your conference's evaluations, and to improve the discussion in any panel.
  5. Manage to a strict "on time and on topic" measure: Moderators play the key role here in real time, but organizers and speakers can do their part to keep this resolution alive. Again, audiences will thank you.
If you want to improve panel discussions, give your organizers, speakers, and moderators 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 help you achieve all of these resolutions, with detailed tips, ideas, examples, and instructions for advance preparation as well as real-time management of a panel in progress. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by International Transport Forum)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our top 10 posts on moderating panels for 2015

Moderating Panels hasn't quite been around for a full year, but it's been a busy one, with moderators under attack in the U.S. presidential debates and other forums. Here are the posts you read the most this year about these challenging moderation tasks and issues:
  1. A journalist asks: Should we reconsider moderating panels? looked a the sometimes-muddy boundaries between journalists and the organizations for which they serve as panel moderators. A must-read for conference organizers.
  2. A reader writes: Moderating my first panel at Beyond the Code 15 shared reader Cate Huston's experience, using my ebook as a guide--for herself, and for her panelists. 
  3. Using panels and moderation as stepping stones to larger speaking gigs shared a strategy popular with many who relish speaking less as a starting approach. Just keep in mind that moderation can be even more difficult than those big gigs you seek!
  4. Trump-ing the panel: When one speaker talks more than the others uses data from a Republican presidential debate, and shares everyday strategies in case this happens on your panel. 
  5. When moderators need to speed the questioner, or the questioned focuses on Q&A, where you may be faced with a long-winded audience member--or panelist giving an answer. How to handle both. 
  6. Want more consistent conference quality? Start with the moderators is aimed at conference organizers and event planners. Get a consistent approach to moderation going, and your sessions will stay on time and on topic, yielding better audience reviews.
  7. When should you turn down an offer to moderate a panel? 9 times shares my foolproof list for those moments when you can say "no, thanks" with no regrets, because not all moderation opportunities are created equal.
  8. Yes, you can: Avoiding 'what she said' on a panel helps moderators fend off the panelists who want to reiterate...and reiterate...and reiterate. Smart tactics for your back pocket, right here.
  9. Toward better panel introductions sheds light on a better way to introduce speakers--to make them, and the moderator, shine. You'll get a better panel discussion from your speakers in the bargain.
  10. 6 smart ways for moderators to interrupt speakers not only acknowledges the inevitable, but helps you pull it off with grace and mastery.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Cleft Clips)

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, December 8, 2015

When the panel gets away from the moderator: Are you ready?

In Some juicy controversy: Moderating the panel at Annie Appleseed, cancer survivor Tami Boehmer shares a cautionary tale about her first experience as a panel moderator...and how the panel got away from her when the discussion was opened to questions from the audience. She described one speaker's remarks, her own reaction to them, and the unexpected backlash from the first questioners this way:
It all seemed like a no-brainer to me, so I wasn’t prepared when the first two audience members who went up to the microphone used it as an opportunity to criticize Susan’s talk. It was a very emotional and angry reaction. The basic gist was that by presenting the topic in this manner, Susan was blaming cancer patients. It was old data and therefore inaccurate. She should have re-focused it and just shared techniques for coping with stress related to cancer. I’ve been attacked in a similar way by some members of the cancer community who believe I’m “blaming the victim” when I share the common attributes of cancer survivors I’ve interviewed who beat the odds. And I was shocked then, too. Luckily several people stood up and supported Susan’s talk. I wrapped up the session by expressing my support of Susan’s points and asking audience members to not look at it as a “blame game,” but as an opportunity to transform their lives.
Whenever you know your panel's topic is likely to have passionate audience members with distinct points of view, there's a chance you'll have such a clash between the audience and the panel. Rather than be taken by surprise, moderators should use their pre-panel consultations with panelists to ask about controversial issues and questions they expect or are concerned about, and how audience members might respond. I recommend a conference call with panelists early in the planning process, and another closer to the date of the actual panel for just this reason--news events or other factors can add controversy to your topic as the date draws closer.

Clever moderators with controversial topics also can try one of my favorite tactics: Start, rather than end, with audience questions. Say you'll take 5 minutes of audience questions at the start, to be sure you get them all on the table. Then it's your job as moderator to make sure those questions get answers, either on the spot if the answers are quick, or afterwards. You can then proceed with the panel, and follow with Q&A as usual--except you'll take those initial questions first, if they weren't dealt with upfront. You'd be surprised at how well this works with audiences. After all, they come to panel discussions with things to discuss.

It also helps to remember that you're a moderator, not a problem-solver. You don't need to agree with every questioner, nor do your panelists. Part of your job is to let people be heard, whether they're on the panel or in the audience. A neutral response along the lines of "Thanks for sharing that point of view. You're giving us a good example of how conplex this issue really is," will go a long way to keeping the discussion moving.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by David Calhoun)

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, December 1, 2015

Thank outside the box: Better gifts for moderators

That pen and pencil set or mug is so 20th century, dear conference organizers. If you want to thank your panel moderators, thank outside the box with these creative gift ideas:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by BCLT Berkeley Law)