Tuesday, December 20, 2016

When the moderator has to disagree with a speaker

Many moderators consider moderating a panel to be easy...right up until that moment when they have to consider disagreeing with a panelist in front of the audience. And I'm here to tell you: You won't get a lot of notice, and you'll need to think fast.

I'm not talking about those "maybe he didn't say that" moments, but the ones where it's clear to everyone, audience and moderator alike, that a particular speaker has just said something that needs to be publicly addressed. What do you do?

For inspiration, take a look at this post on The Eloquent Woman about a big moment during an interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a women's tech conference. Nadella had just suggested that women wanting a pay increase should trust in karma rather than ask for more. His interviewer or moderator, Maria Klawe, didn't lack for credibility in coming back at that answer. A Microsoft board member, she also is the dean of Harvey Mudd College, an engineering school. And the audience didn't fail to absorb what he said, and was reacting poorly to it.

Klawe started by disagreeing with Nadella, and then telling a personal story about her own missed opportunities in salary negotiation, ending by urging the audience not to trust in karma but to do research and negotiate. Post author Cate Huston shared three lessons, all of which work for panel moderators:
  • Disagree with your interviewee! Klawe stepped in at the moment they were losing the audience and her answer was a highlight of the talk.
  • Get personal. Nadella talked about theory and the long term view of HR, but Klawe made the loss that women get from not negotiating personal with her own story of being paid $50,000 less than she should have been at Princeton. Further revealing that she had made the same mistake with her current role made it impossible to ignore as a one-off.
  • Relate to the audience. Klawe’s response is full of things that the many women in the audience relate to, being good at asking for things for others, for example (notice how many times in the whole interview she advocates donating to Harvey Mudd). And where better to make the suggestion of role-playing than at an event with a huge careers fair where women gather to learn and support each other. I bet women were role-playing salary negotiation in the breaks that day.
Just remember this: A moderator's quick thinking and willingness to address a negative situation out loud can make the difference between a panel that's notorious for what happened, and one that's remembered fondly and positively. Which option will you choose?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by a2gemma)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many ebook 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.