Tuesday, September 13, 2016

If voters were moderators: 4 ways to know what your audience expects

Pew Research recently took a look at what voters want the moderators to spend time on in the presidential debates, and while debates are quite a different format from a normal conference panel, it's a great reminder to moderators: Do you know what your audience expects in terms of the time you spend on particular topics?

For most of us, the answer is probably "no." Panels get put on conference programs for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes the least of those is "audience interest." But as a moderator, you can do your part to make sure you have a better understanding of what your panel's audience expects. Here are a few ways to gather that data:

  1. Ask the organizers: Part of your discussion with the organizers about your moderation role--something for which I have an entire list of questions in my ebook--should include gleaning information they have about why the panel was organized and what they think their audience has already heard before, and is looking for now. You absolutely should share what you learn from this discussion with your panelists.
  2. Ask the panelists: Presuming the panel has some knowledge of this audience (and if not, why are they on the panel?), ask them for their ideas and what they've heard from audience members. If you're going to use social channels to find out more (see below), ask the panelists to join you in this information-gathering.
  3. Use Twitter or other social channels to talk to your audience in advance: There's really no better use of Twitter than to post questions in advance of the panel, eliciting audience members' thoughts on what they are hoping to hear--and that goes for your virtual audience, as well as the one that plans to be in the room on the day. If you are using one particular social channel to get feedback, use the other channels to direct your audience to the place where you are collecting input.
  4. Post your own poll and promote it: You can get even more thorough and use a free polling tool to create your own questions and elicit feedback. Don't forget to promote the poll using all your social channels.
There's just one catch to eliciting audience feedback in these ways, and this is why so many panels skip this step: If you're going to ask for feedback and questions in advance, your audience will have a reasonable expectation that at least some of them will be answered by the panel. Don't let them down!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Kevin Lawver)

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.