Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The moderator and the long-winded, off-topic question

I love this Oslo Davis cartoon, and would be tempted as a moderator to announce "We have time for just one long-winded, self-indulgent question that relates to nothing we've been talking about." But that might be just a tad too painful. So what should a moderator do when that long-winded, self-indulgent question, unrelated to your topic, arises? Here are some good escapes and tactics to keep in your back pocket:
  1. Call the question: "Do you have a question? May we have it?" is a perfectly polite, if peremptory, way of getting a question out of the questioner--or the acknowledgment that "I just had a statement to make." Thank the non-questioner, acknowledge the issue, and announce "We need to move on to make sure we get as many questions as possible." Then call on someone else.
  2. Answer for the panel: Sometimes, the better part of valor for a moderator is to save time in the answering of the excruciatingly long question. "Let me take the liberty of answering for the panel" will signal to the panelists that you don't want them to jump in. Then answer briefly. Then move on to the next question. This is not a tactic to use frequently. After all, the audience *did* come to hear the panelists.
  3. Get back on topic: If it's abundantly clear that the "questioner" is nowhere near the topic at hand, interrupt and point out the discrepancy. Ask whether she has something related to the topic to share. If not, move along. "Help me understand how what you're saying is related to..." is a nice way to elicit the fact that she has no intention of keeping to topic.
In most cases, you should spend a little time acknowledging the issue raised. Don't shut down a questioner just because you didn't pre-imagine the question or because the answer might be an uncomfortable one. Be respectful and kind, rather than argumentative. Thank the questioner for sharing her thoughts. 

(Oslo Davis cartoon)

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.