Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The most important (and risky) gesture for a panel moderator

The most important--and riskiest--moderator gesture has to be how you indicate people whom you wish to speak. Yet many moderators don't think of it until the gesture has caused a problem with the audience.

There are plenty of ways to call on speakers and audience members, but the one to avoid is pointing with your index finger, a gesture considered offensive or aggressive in nearly every culture. I think speakers reach for this gesture unthinkingly, or, if done aforethought, choose it to be precise. Pointing a finger at an inanimate object is fine ("I'd like the table moved here, please"), but when you start aiming it at humans, trouble can occur.

Instead of pointing with your index finger, try these alternatives:
  • use your entire hand, fingers extended together. You'll "point" by holding your hand perpendicular to the floor, fingers forward.
  • do the same but with your palm up or down in relation to the floor. Again, keep all the fingers together.
  • "point" with two or three fingers held together and your thumb holding the others close to the palm.
  • If you're on a stage or raised platform, point low to indicate people closer to the front, and higher up to indicate people at the rear of the room. 
  • When calling on speakers, if you're standing near them, you can nod your head and use eye contact to confirm which speaker you want to answer--but to be absolutely clear, say their names loudly and clearly when you're calling on them.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Lawrence OP)

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