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7 Tips for Becoming a Rock Star Moderator

Christina McKenna, President, Bluestone Executive Communications

Guest post by Christina McKenna, President, Bluestone Executive Communications  

A few weeks ago a client emailed a video, asking us to critique his performance on a panel discussion at a tech conference. He had worked hard to showcase his expertise with stories, examples and personal experiences and we, were eager to see his progress. But when we played the video, it was hard to focus on our client’s performance because we were so distracted by that of the moderator.

First, he talked too long about himself.  Then he spent too long talking about the panelists as he introduced them. Later, when he finally let the panelists speak, he repeatedly interrupted them to share his own opinions and experiences. The moderator frustrated both the panelists and the audience. Worse, he undermined the event and did damage to his own professional reputation. 

A few days later I saw another moderator do just the opposite. Far from dominating the discussion, she merely administered it, reading the names of the participants and audience questions from notecards, but doing NOTHING to direct the conversation. When one panelist went on too long, the moderator simply let him run away with the show. 

Both of these moderators not only let down their audiences, they missed an opportunity to elevate their organizations and their own professional brands. 

If you’re asked to moderate a panel discussion, remember, you’re not the star of the show, but you do play a critical role as the audience’s advocate. Follow these seven tips to be sure you well serve the audience, the panel and your own professional brand.

1.) Beforehand, call your panelists to get a sense of their expertise and speaking style. Listen for interesting stories or examples and let them know which ones you’d like them to repeat on stage. (Consider sharing our blog How to Be a Rock Star Panelist.)

2.) As you prepare, recognize that you serve three masters: the audience, the event and your own reputation. Do your best to meet the needs of the listeners, but in a way that casts the event and your own brand in a favorable light.

3.) Plan, practice and deliver a short introduction that sets up the importance of the conversation and reassures the audience they’ve made a good choice in coming.

4.) Master the art of “the polite interruption” and use it if needed. The audience is counting on you to keep things moving.

5.) Prepare questions ahead of time. But stay alert during the discussion so you can ad lib good questions as they occur to you. Don’t be afraid to challenge your panelists, play devil’s advocate or ask them to respond to one another. Interaction is what makes the conversation interesting.

6.) Once on stage, never disengage or glance away while your panelists are speaking. If the audience thinks you’re distracted, they’ll check out too.

7.) Finally, prepare and practice a closing statement that will tie up the conversation like a bow on a box so no matter what has transpired on stage, you can always reframe the discussion as worthwhile and send your audience out the door with a positive feeling about the program, the panel and their rock star moderator.

For more tips from Christina and her team at Bluestone Executive Communications, you can check out their blog and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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