“Oh, the panel moderation is piece of cake; it is not like a speaker who has to go thru all the motions”. When I heard this, I was angry, I felt like ripping his shirt off with bare hands to shake him up to say; “If that is what you think, then you should never be asked to moderate a panel.”
In my opinion, asking to moderate a panel is a privilege you must embrace with reverence and humility. A panel moderation is an Art far more than any speaker could hope for and an essential skill for any leader or executive hoping to climb up the corporate ladder. A speaker never has to moderate a panel in his or her career, however, a panel moderator must be a far better speaker who chooses not to speak and let other speakers shine. It is very important for a leader to know how to facilitate a meeting with different teams all at once to strategise and lead them to the same goal. You are thinking, I am exaggerating, right? When, you are moderating or directing 3-5 unrehearsed plays, all at once.
I was asked to moderate a panel eight years ago for an internal event. The pitch from desperate organiser was “You are a speaker, tech entrepreneur with a computer science and business degree and have worked as a software developer. You will shine among the tech entrepreneurs. Would you moderate a panel for me?”. I am one of those people who says “Yes” to all new experiences. I said, “Yes, I will do it”. On my way to home, I was in the full-blown panic mode. I was shaken to the core with fear, “what do you know about moderating a panel?” and another voice saying “It is a doodle.”
Until this point, I considered myself as an expert researcher, speechwriter and public speaker. Yes, I have seen how panel discussion is presented, at this stage, I have neither been a panellist nor a moderator. Yes, I am a public speaker know few things about putting together speech, creating rapport with the audience and few speaker jargons, however, moderating a panel is an entirely different ball game.
When you are a speaker all eyes are on you; when you are a moderator you have to let panellists shine, and you become the shadow or wallpaper.
The following are the difference between Panel Moderator and Speaker;
|You represent the audience||You speak with the audience|
|You don’t have control over the content because panellists are speaking||You have control over the content. You tell a story and make a point.|
|You have to manage all panellists, ask or direct relevant questions to appropriate panellists, watch the time and keep the energy up of the room and panellists.||You manage the audience through your content and energy.|
|You are preparing yourself to moderate a few impromptu speeches.||You are delivering prepared and rehearsed speech.|
|Your field and protect against controversial questions so that it doesn’t get out of hand||You still have to do but you can diffuse it a lot easier.|
|You make your panellist shine by directing right questions for them to answer||You shine by showing your expertise and eloquence|
|You Listen actively to speakers & audience also assess quickly when energy goes down or up so that you can bring them to balance||You listen to the silent language of the audience.|
|You must possess panache of asking the questions. Not just any questions, question which will get the answers to the confusion audience have. The what and the how questions.||You have to answer the questions which are in the minds of your audience.|
One of the biggest mistakes any organiser must avoid is choosing the wrong moderator for the topic. We all moderators are very good at adapting the situations, able to think on the feet and speak off the cuff; unfortunately, if the subject is way out of moderator’s comfort zone or knowledge, then it will be wrong for both organiser, moderator and the audience. I have sat thru these types of discussion again and again.
Now, what are the skills a panel moderator must possess
As a panel moderator, you are orchestrating an unrehearsed play or unrehearsed set of plays played by different panellists; still, you must be able to make it look like it is all rehearsed. A moderator must be able to speak off the cuff and ask the question; you have to listen to redirect to form a line of thread on the discussion subject. Do not try to control the flow but make tweaks so that the stream is flowing the way you want it to be. As an improv artist, you dance the dance where other is leading at the same time have the awareness that you are the director who is delivering the feeling to your audience. It is hard but doable.
Active Listening Skills
As the saying goes, two ears and one mouth are because we need to listen more than we speak. Actively listening is the most important of all skills a moderator must possess. As a speaker, you can get away by speaking more because speaking is what expected from you.
We all listen to the other whether the other person agrees or not. The question is whether we listen to understand or we listen to forget. Secondly, we listen to question the speaker instead of understanding what the subject is. Active listening is about not just following the speaker’s words but the intent behind the words. It is about the feelings, body language and other non-verbal cues which go with the words. Active listening is about being in the moment listening without judgement.
The Knowledge, not expertise
Just as a speaker, a panel moderator must have a good understanding on the topic of the discussion. However, the moderator doesn’t have to an expert. If the moderator is not knowledgeable about the topic it would be hard to ask relevant questions and direct the audience questions to the relevant panellist. A panel moderator is representative of the audience and aware of the issues surrounding the topic. To control the panel outcome and the overall experience of the panel; it is necessary for the moderator to have good knowledge about the topic they are moderating. So, research the topic write as many questions as you can if possible speak to the audience gather enough background.
We all ask questions; many instances questions are just that. We are not asking the questions to seek answers or solve a problem or improve the lives. However, when it comes to the panel discussion, a moderator must possess good interviewing skills. We all have sat through few interviews or panels in our lives where we are either astonished by the questions asked and knowledge gained or interviewer’s inability to ask relevant questions on the subject which has confused us even further. In my opinion, this comes down to researching. There are three elements to asking better interviewing; one knows about the subject, knowledge about your panellist’s expertise and knowledge about your audience. Yes, sometimes you need to be able to read other’s mind.
As panel moderator, it is essential to able above to organise not just the panel but the whole scene. You are the director of the show even if it is just an hour. There are many areas a panel moderator has to manage, 1. You have to speak with (remember not to but with) audio-visual guys, how many microphones you need on the stage and how many for the audience. 2. How you are going to introduce panellists so that they are remembered for their contribution. 3. There is pre-panel day preparation to understand your panellists, know the layout of the room, stage and seating to get better access. As a speaker, you can get away by all this, as a moderator, this will put you in the state of disarray and question your ability.
I once thought, why do you need to have this skill? As a moderator, it is your job to let your panellists lead; they are the experts. They are the leaders in the field of the subject. However, as a moderator you must be a servant leader, you must be able to lead from the behind so that spotlight is on your panellists not on you. Leading from behind is a hard skill to master. As a leader, we think we have more responsibility, command and authority whether we like it or not; however, as a moderator command and authority are less pronounced. We have more responsibility, no power nor authority but still, we need to lead with questions, lead with less influence on the subject, lead with researching the subject all three the topic, panellists and the audience.
Hope after today, you will not scare the panel moderation, every leader must know how to moderate a panel it is a good skill for everyday leadership tasks such as chairing that important meeting, coordinating a strategy session or being the leader who listens and acts on the feet by respecting everyone’s view.
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