Moderating
Take a moment and picture this...
You and your colleagues are planning an upcoming event where you decide to replace the keynote speaker with a fun and informative panel discussion.

With careful deliberation, you and your team secure a phenomenal line-up of highly-experienced subject matter experts. Whew! The hard work is done. The most important component of the panel discussion is secured – expert panelists who can deliver the content your audience is expecting.

Now it's time to find a moderator to facilitate this discussion.
Who do you choose?
  • By default, do you go with the committee chair? He or she as put a lot of work into the event. This might be a nice way to recognize their effort while enhancing their visibility.
  • Or... perhaps you should choose a top-level executive whom everyone knows and likes? This might help increase attendance.
  • Or... maybe you should consider a high-profile or locally-known celebrity to help elevate the event's status and perceived importance?
  • Or... to keep expenses low, perhaps you should go with a no-cost moderator? Maybe someone who is looking to improve his or her public speaking skills?

Now, fast-forward to the day of the event...
You went with one of the options above and the panel begins. Sadly, ten minutes into it, it becomes abundantly clear you picked the wrong moderator.
How do you know?
  • First and foremost, they aren't prepared and clearly, they haven't done their homework. They know very little about the panelists and they appear to be 'winging it.'
  • The discussion is a total snooze-fest because the moderator is asking basic and surface-level questions in a 'hot potato' format (where the same question is asked of every panelist with an allotted time to answer and there's no dialogue among the panelists).
  • They're ill-equipped to manage the spontaneity of the event - especially domineering, difficult, and somewhat out-of-control panelists.
  • They're allowing personal agendas among the panelists to heavily influence and dominate the discussion which is veering farther and farther away from what was promised to the audience... and the moderator shows no signs of getting the conversation back on track.
  • Even worse, the moderator can't resist his or her own need to stroke their ego as a subject matter expert attempting to make themselves look good while taking the emphasis away from the expertise of the panelists.
  • And sadly, throughout the entire discussion, they've ignored the audience and left little-to-no time for audience Q&A due to their own mismanagement of time

In the end, your moderator was horrible and what were you left with?
A phenomenal line-up of panelists whose substantive value was UNDERUTILIZED by a moderator who simply wasn't up to the task.
Panel discussions can be tremendously valuable when facilitated properly . . . but horrid when they're not.

Which is why it is absolutely critical your organization be as deliberate and intentional with choosing your moderator as you are with choosing your panelists.

Selecting a moderator because he's an executive leader in the organization - or - she's worked hard & deserves the recognition - or - he needs more visibility - or - she wants more on-stage practice - or - he comes at no cost... are not appropriate reasons to choose someone to moderate your panel discussion - especially a discussion among experts you've worked incredibly hard to secure. 

Mediocre moderators can make even the best of experts look average. However, skilled facilitators can make average panelists look fantastic! So what skill set should your moderator bring to the table?

What should you be looking for in a moderator?
  • Advance preparation in the form of research and in-depth discussions with panelists and event organizers is absolutely critical to ensure a high-value panel discussion. This is a non-negotiable activity in which your moderator should be willing to invest a considerable amount of time.
  • Simply put, your moderator should know how to create a safe and comfortable environment that immediately puts everyone at ease.
  • Then, with ninja-like agility, your moderator should be skilled at using panelists' responses to curate a dynamic discussion that evolves in ways that simply can't be predicted or anticipated. The end result is a candid and substantive dialogue with diverse points-of-view.
  • Knowing how to effectively manage various personalities among a panel of experts is a must. That said, you moderator should posses quiet confidence that allows them to subtly control the room - keeping discussion on-point and delivering what the audience was promised.
  • Skilled facilitators know there are three equally important parties engaged in a panel discussion and ultimately, the success of the event will be determined by the value delivered to the audience. Therefore, your moderator should engage your audience from the beginning. Then, throughout the discussion, he or she should read the audience with a willingness and ability to pivot in-the-moment to ensure the needs of the audience are met.
Are you looking for this type of moderator?
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