Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Moderators: End when you said you were going to end the panel

"Well, I'm the last speaker, so it doesn't matter if I go overtime," one speaker said to me at a conference I was chairing.

While it's nice to think that letting a session run late is helpful--either to audience members who have more questions or to the speakers who didn't talk too long--in fact, you're creating more problems for the audience and the organizer when you as the moderator fail to end on time. Do you really want to let your over-long speaker put you in the position of standing between the audience and its lunch, its drinks hour, or its next piece of business? After all, your job is to keep things running on time.

It's normal to get pushback from speakers who want to challenge limits, and for the record, I'd done all the things I recommend in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels in the advance work with this speaker. Yet here he was, announcing his intent to ignore all the instructions. If you're in this situation, stand your ground, moderators. Framing your statements in terms of yourself, with "I" statements, lets you set the standard without sounding accusatory. Just because the speakers didn't do their job doesn't mean you shouldn't do yours.

That also holds true even if you've tried all the stay-on-time tactics, but are about to go overtime. At the end of the day and at the end of the panel, someone has to call "time," and that's you, moderators.

When that speaker challenged me with a veiled threat of going past the end of the conference day, I was ready with my reply: "Even if the organizer had rented the space beyond 5pm--which he did not--you're asking me to let a meeting I'm chairing run overtime. I run on-time meetings, and I'm not going to let you mar my reputation," I said.

I still needed to pull out some tricks from my bag with this speaker, but he knew my intentions clearly. His reaction was to take all the time allotted for both his talk and for Q&A, so when he finished--with a minute to spare--I said, "I wish we could continue, but we are at the end of our session. Join me in thanking our speakers." Then I led the applause.

I also set the stage for an on-time day in this session by announcing early in the day my intention to keep sessions on time. Don't forget that the audience is your best friend when it comes to staying on time, so find ways to include them in your time-keeping, from announcing the limits to enforcing them. You'll find more ways to keep speakers on time in the book!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Andy Ihnatko)

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.