Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Moderators must interrupt from time to time. But when is it too much?

Today Show host Matt Lauer's handling of a high-profile interview with Hillary Clinton came under fire recently for all sorts of reasons, but chief among them were his interruptions of Clinton. Lauer was interviewing both Clinton and her presidential election rival Donald Trump separately as part of a televised forum, and he was billed as the moderator. But Clinton got nearly all the interruptions, compared to Lauer's handling of Trump--and viewers objected.

I'm an advocate of moderators who interrupt, because some panel discussion and other moderation tasks require it. Some moderators can be too polite, letting the panel get out of control. Speakers repeat themselves or one another; talk about something other than the answer to the question posed; talk longer than the time allotted. Interruptions help get the discussion back on track in many cases. That's why one reviewer of my ebook on moderating panels noted, "One delightful section presents smart ways to interrupt speakers, primarily so you can shut them up and stay on time, for the win."

But in this recent case, viewers noticed the imbalance right away: Clinton got more "manterruptions," and Trump few. Interruptions from the moderator are not a bad thing per se. But doing so unfairly can be. Research shows that in mixed-gender conversation, men are primarily responsible for the interruptions. So male moderators should absorb that information and work to find other ways to engage panelists who are female. I'm going to add avoiding manterruptions to my list of things moderators can do to manage panels with good gender balance.

This is often difficult to sense in the moment, and can be more noticeable later, when you're reviewing a recording of the proceedings. But moderators can come up with a scorecard for themselves, making simple marks when they interrupt a panelist, pose a question to them, etc. Then you'll have a quick visual reminder of what you're doing.

For more on interruptions the right way, read my 6 smart ways for moderators to interrupt speakers, and pass them on to Mr. Lauer if you run into him.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jeff Sims)

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.