Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Can panel moderators really fact-check on the fly? Tips from presidential debates

For the journalists moderating the presidential debates, the idea of doing fact-checking on the fly--correcting candidates in the moments after they put forward a false statement--is daunting. The New York Times looked at fact-checking on the fly, and offered some tips any panel moderator can use:
The notion of a moderator as a fact-checker “is too simplistic,” said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame and a board member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group that oversees the events. “What a good journalist does is ask follow-up questions that challenge the candidate to explain.” 
“The moderator can’t do it all; the onus falls on us a little bit, as the body politic,” to determine if a candidate is plausible, he added. “The moderator can make a mistake by being the voice of God, saying, ‘Here’s the way it is.’”
So what are those questions that will get your panelist to explain what they meant and whether it's really true? Try "How do you know that will happen?" or "Review for us the supporting data for that view" or "Let's go back for a minute and examine what you just said. Is that really the case?" With a panel, you also can turn to another panelist and say, "Jane, do you agree? Is that the truth from where you sit?"

The good news: It matters to the audience. If readers of political coverage are any indication, fact-checking may actually have an impact on the audience, so it's worth doing.

Like everything else in public speaking, it's actually possible to prepare for on-the-fly situations. This post suggests how the journalists moderating the presidential debates can prepare, by anticipating statements based on past statements by the candidates, and thinking through how they will question or respond. You'll find more ideas for prepping your questions in my ebook, below.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by kkirugi)

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.