Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The one muscle you need to exercise to be a better panel moderator

Once the preparation is over and the panel has begun, the moderator has one strong muscle she can use again and again. It works nearly every time, no matter what is happening.

Here it is: Skip the subtle signals to direct the action. Announce, out loud, what is happening or what you want to happen.

Too often, I see moderators who think they must be subtle. They glare at the overtime speaker, willing him to be silent, or just to pause. They put notes in front of speakers. They make hand signals below the table top. They stand off to the side. They fret and sweat. But they don't use the one real tool they have, which is to speak out loud--even if it means an interruption.

Most audiences and organizers want the moderator to be competent and likable, on time and non-anxious about it. Your moderation is a time to embrace both the firm and kind approaches.

What does that look and sound like? Let’s say your first speaker on the panel goes overtime and can’t be stopped. You can open the questions by acknowledging the time problem and offering a compromise that lets the audience and the next speakers know what to expect, as in, "One thing to know about me as a moderator is that I like to run an on-time panel, and right now I am failing because we're overtime by 3 minutes. To make up the time, I'm going to take just two questions now for Jim, and then move on to our other panelists, hoping they can help me make up the time and ensure that we can have plenty of audience interaction. Two questions, please..."

Moderators who speak up make the situation transparent to the speakers and to the audience. You're enlisting them in your task, in a subtle but clear way.  If you do it without anxiety, firmly but kindly, you will keep control of the room and the proceedings. If you hesitate, even a little, you might get run over by an out-of-control speaker. It's the primary way to keep speakers on time, to gracefully handle an over-long questioner or a persistent one, and it's the only way to make the session end on time. Announce, rather than signal, what you see happening or want to happen next. Practice using this muscle, and you'll be a better moderator for it.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Chris Geatch)

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.