The Art of Moderating and Lion Taming

My first time moderating an advisory board, I had the distinct feeling of being a lion tamer in a cage without a chair or whip for protection. The panel of 15 KOLs had three who loved the sound of their own voices and assumed everyone else would as well. Some other participants may have been shy – but almost all were unwilling to compete, disagree, or offer alternative opinions. I thought there had to be a better way of moderating a group like this. Through talking to others who excel at moderating, some Internet research, and my own evolving experience, I have landed on these 10 moderating tips as particularly useful.

  1. Lay the groundwork for what’s to come before the event begins. If possible, share the questions that will be asked with the participants. Politely communicate to them the ground rules for the event. Let each person know you’ll be limiting the amount of time each person gets to speak so that everyone will have a chance to be heard. Apologize in advance if you have to cut off some of the more loquacious.

  2. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Have a strong introduction that communicates the goals for the session, identifies the members of the meeting or panel, and explains why they’ve been asked to contribute to the topic. If there is an audience, make them aware of the ground rules that have been set for the participants, including how long each will speak and when Q&A will occur. Some meetings benefit from questions at the end of each topic and some, at the end of the meeting.

  3. Respect the time of your panel and audience. Keep an eye on the clock. Consider how much you have to accomplish and allot the appropriate amount of time for each topic. Some topics will warrant more time than others. Stick to your timeline or you will be rushing through the final questions and not effectively accomplishing anyone’s goals.

  4. Identify participants by name. Use tent cards or a list of all participants and where each is sitting. You get someone’s attention a lot faster when you use their name and doing so reminds the audience who is speaking.

  5. Keep notes of the conversations and key statements throughout the session. At the end of the meeting, you’ll be fully prepared to summarize what was memorable, agreed upon, and accomplished. If appropriate, display the notes for all to see.

  6. If you, as Moderator, are also expected to contribute to the conversation, speak last. It shows respect for the other participants’ ideas and contributions. If you have something new to offer, do so. If not, don’t take up time, move on. When you do contribute, be non-judgmental to avoid dismissing panel or audience members who might disagree. If the goal of the meeting is to establish a consensus, a timeline, or next steps, demonstrate openness to everyone’s ideas and be accepting and supportive of the outcome. Do this even if it’s not the decision you would have made. Let your behavior set the example for others.

  7. As a general rule, you should only be talking at most 20% of the time. This includes your open and close. The panel and audience members should speak 80% of the time.

  8. When you have meeting or panel members who seem shy or are just not contributing, use what I call “the army method of volunteering.” You might want to give a heads up by letting the person know that after the current speaker you’d like to hear from them next. One of your primary goals as moderator is to ensure that everyone contributes.

  9. Manage the Q&A session well. Not only for time but to make sure as many people as possible get to ask their questions. If an answer becomes epically long, intercede with a simple phrase like, “for the sake of time, I apologize but I need to move forward.” Always be polite but remain in control.

  10. Deliver a solid closing. During your closing, highlight key learnings, next steps, and how the audience might be able to get more information.

At the end of the day, the openness, focus, and energy you exhibit while moderating will act as a model for everyone else’s behavior. Most importantly, these moderating tips will bring out the best in your panelists and be valuable for the audience.

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