Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Moderator as juggler: Keynote speaker, panel, audience--all at once

Conference organizers keep looking for ways to shake up the same-old, same-old formats, and panel moderators--the workhorse speakers of any conference--would be wise to keep up with the trends. That's why you should be thinking about what I'm going to call the juggler's challenge: Moderating a keynote speaker, expert panel, and the audience, all at once.

I know most moderators are juggling plenty already on a basic panel discussion. But this new configuration isn't a fantasy. MeetingsNet reported on its use at Digital Now, where it was called a "collaboration session." And the result was that unicorn-like quality every panel hopes for, but rarely achieves: feeling "fresh and unscripted."

Here's how it worked. From the article:
The staging made for interesting engagement. For example, for the opening morning Collaboration Session, keynoter Jim Carroll, futurist and innovation expert, sat on stage in a director’s chair, with the moderator standing just off to his side. The room was set in crescent rounds. The three panelists, all association CEOs, and thought leaders in their own right, sat in director’s chairs positioned approximately in the middle of the room, spread out in a semi-circle. They posed a variety of smart questions to Carroll, which were seemingly unrehearsed and which he candidly answered (as candidly as one who foresees future trends can answer). The audience piped in on occasion to ask questions, or sent questions via text messaging to the moderator, who skillfully interspersed meaningful comments and questions throughout.
The keynoter later remarked on why this format feels fresh: "Many associations’ annual events are on autopilot. Same old title, same old speakers, they talk about the same old stuff."

In this format, moderators have a few extra considerations to add to their already long lists:

  • Letting the audience get a word in edgewise. With three panelists and a keynote speaker ready to comment and ask questions, the audience might get short shrift here.
  • Handling texts as well as hand-raiser questions: Texted questions might solve that audience-opportunity problem, allowing audience members to text questions while speakers are speaking. But moderators need, then, to be able to keep tabs on texts as well as what's happening in the discussion in real time. As with other types of digital media enhancements to panels, I recommend having a second moderator whose job is just to screen and deploy questions coming in electronically, be the from text or Twitter, so the main moderator can keep her eyes and ears on what is being said.
  • Positioning the moderator: Here, the moderator stood to one side of the keynoter, on stage. The panel sat with the audience. You might also want to position yourself between the stage and the audience.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Chris Blakely)

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.