Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When an audience member hijacks the panel and the moderator

It's every panel moderator's nightmare: Losing control of the discussion. Often, that happens due to an argument between audience members and panelists, but sometimes, just one person is responsible. And in a recent high-profile panel at ComicCon, the person responsible worked for the conference.

The headline says it all: “Women in Film Production” Panel at SDCC Derailed by Male Con Staffer Who Didn’t Realize He Wasn’t There to Moderate Or, Like, Even Talk. The conference staffer present "to hold the microphone during the Q&A, be there in case something went wrong, or help if the panelists needed anything" took that mic and used it to "hijack the conversation with his own words of wisdom as a filmmaker, promoting his own filmmaking school with loads of patronizing assumptions about what the ladies did or did not know."

Panelists and moderator were stunned into silence, but later, panelist Lauren Haroutunian took to Twitter to describe in several tweets what happened, including this one:

It's a good reminder that panel moderation is not for the faint of heart, and those who would derail the discussion can be anywhere: support staff, organizers, panelists, or audience members. Here are a few tactics you should have in your back pocket when you moderate a panel, just in case it runs out of control:

  1. The ultimate muscle for any moderator: Say out loud what you wish to occur, instead of silently wishing for it or sending hand signals that may be ignored. Your announcement helps the others in the room join you in support, and gives them permission to object to the interruption.
  2. Learn how to interrupt: Being polite is important. Being polite to the detriment of the conversation is not the moderator's role. Learning correct, polite ways to interrupt an overly long speaker, be she in the audience or on the panel, will help you keep the proceedings on time and on topic.
  3. Learn how to manage the long-winded, off-topic question, which often derails the panel, by handling the questioner deftly and firmly.
  4. When the topic is controversial, prepare for what might derail the panel, rather than assume all will go smoothly. This is where working with your panelists in advance is essential. Many moderators share my ebook with the entire panel, so they know the full range of what needs to be anticipated.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from ComicCon by Hina Ichigo)

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.