Every event needs a good event moderator. Whether it is someone who assists the speakers and the audience throughout the day, or in a session. There are a few elements that make for a good moderator.
A good moderator will make any event run smooth.
You could get asked to be a moderator yourself. I would suggest any speaker: accept that invitation, at least once. You will learn a lot from it. Not only from what the other speakers are talking about, but from the experience. You will be a better presenter afterward.
Let’s start with the what and how to recognise a good event moderator.
What is an (event) moderator?
An event moderator is the master of ceremony of the event. He or she is there to make sure the speakers can do the best job and the audience gets the most out of the day or session. A moderator introduces speakers. He or she also makes sure the speakers stick to the time and the moderator asks and moderate questions. He or she is the connection between the different talks.
There are two types of moderators. There are those that are the ‘host’ for an entire day, the event moderator. They are for a large part responsible for the success of a conference. There are also panel- or session moderators. They are ‘only’ responsible for a specific session. Even though it is less work, it doesn’t make them less important. They can still make or break an event.
How to be a good event moderator
Unlike what some speakers think, being a good or even great moderator isn’t easy. If you do it right, it’s a lot of work. If you want to be a good moderator at a conference or to moderate a conference session, you need to do certain things well. You need to work on these moderation skills:
- Be prepared
- Get in touch with the speakers
- Make the speakers the center of attention
- Ask the right questions
- Pay attention
- Be a host
Let’s dive in! What are the most important moderation skills you need?
First, you want to be ready. Don’t show up without any preparation. The simplest thing here is to know the agenda. It sounds obvious, but trust me, I’ve seen them. Moderators that didn’t even know what was going to happen.
You want to know who you are dealing with. Know the speakers (by name!) and know their topics.
If you aren’t knowledgeable enough on the topic, research. Do some reading. There is a ton of content available on the web on the web on any topic. It should be easy to at least get a feel for the topic. You might also want to get in touch with others who do know more about the topic. Let them inform you.
If you do know about the topic, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research. But you want to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of knowing too much. Of taking over the presentations of the speakers.
You should research the topic on potential questions you can ask or the audience will ask. Go to Q&A websites like Quora and look on Social Media to figure out what people want to know about the topic.
Get in touch with the speakers
“Can we jump on a call to discuss your talk this Tuesday?” the moderator had e-mailed. He e-mailed all the speakers in the panel at once. As soon as I saw the e-mail, I knew this wasn’t going to end well. One by one the replies came. “I can’t do Tuesday, how about Wednesday?”, one speaker responded. Another couldn’t make it on Wednesday. The third speaker e-mailed that she wasn’t ready with the preparation of her talk yet.
In total, we ended up with a thread of about 20 e-mails. And no call.
Trying to get a call together with speakers usually won’t work. In a post on Entrepreneur, Rebecca Lieb, who has moderated tons of panels, says not to worry about a pre-call.
“Don’t break your neck getting your panelists on an advance call. It’s like herding cats. Instead, solicit input on the topic from people individually, and then send a bulletin to the entire group on the topics and questions you’ll cover.”
She’s right. It usually doesn’t work.
But you should get in touch with the speakers before the talk. But do it one at a time. First, ask them about their talk. What they want to discuss and what the most important outcomes of their talks are. Then summarise it all in one email to all the speakers. See if there is any overlap and suggest changes if needed.
Make the speakers the center of attention
As a moderator, you are not the center of attention. The speakers are. The best moderators know how to take a step back. To shut up when needed. Always be aware of the fact that you should keep what you say as short as possible. Summarise what the speakers said. Ask short questions and repeat the questions from the audience. That’s it.
It’s like I’ve said many times in my presentations when it comes to marketing: you are not the hero, you are Yoda. As a moderator, you help the speakers become the heroes.
Ask the right questions
As an event moderator that knows the topic, there is the danger of asking questions that are too difficult. That could lead to a great conversation between you and a speaker. But it might also mean the audience doesn’t get it.
Do your research to find out what your audience is like. Test their knowledge level and have your questions be in line with that. Ask questions the audience would want to know, not what you want to know
Being an event moderator is hard work! You are the only one who knows for sure that you need to pay attention. You want to know what happens and you want to make sure you ask the right questions. For that, you need to pay attention. If you have seen the talks before, pay attention to the audience. If not, pay attention to the talk. You have to ask a question after!
Be a host
Finally. As a moderator, you are more than the person watching time. You are the person in charge of the session. That means the people in the room are your guests. And you want to make your guests happy. This is much like hospitality. The customer is king, so you treat him well. In this case, the audience is your customer.
That’s why you want to be the perfect host. Be attentive. Know who’s in front of you. And make sure they have a great time.
Being a good event moderator isn’t easy. Even though many think they can ‘wing’ it, the good ones spend a lot of time preparing. But it’s worth it. In the end, the audience will go away with a lot more than if the moderator doesn’t do a good job.
To answer the question “how to be a good moderator at a conference”: you need to have the right moderation skills. But most important: you need to make it work.
A moderator is the glue that keeps it together. And remember: you are Yoda.