Something I feel quite strongly about having sat through hundreds of panels over the years, is that there is a real art to moderating. It’s completely different compared to simply ‘speaking’, and it’s often overlooked as a skill.
The role is to facilitate a conversation or debate. It means taking the lead from the get go, and directing the conversation in the right way. It also means managing people on and off stage, some of whom might enjoy the sound of their own voice more than others. To do it well you need to be listening constantly, willing to jump in and cut people off, and deftly manage audience questions (and the dreaded “this is more of a statement than a question, but”)…
What should you know before you moderate:
1. Moderating is not speaking.
It’s not better, or worse, but it’s not being asked to contribute to a panel conversation in the same way as the panellists. It’s important to know this before you take on the role, as it could be frustrating not to be able to contribute as much as you’d like. Your role is to enable the speakers, and manage the conversation, you may get to contribute along the way, but not to the same level. (Of course each opportunity is different and some organisers may give you more space to talk than others).
2. It can be a really valuable opportunity
You can get a huge amount out of moderating a panel. It can get you access to topics you’re interested in but not fully immersed in yet, or it can introduce you to thought leaders in a space you’re passionate about. It could give you exposure to people you wouldn’t usually meet, and the best bit is that you don’t have to worry about answering the hardest questions yourself.
3. The best moderators are organised, so be prepared to put the work in if you’re asked
Pre-event prep calls, understanding how the tech works on the day (microphone confusion is a conference classic), and knowing exactly how much time you have is all crucial to running a smooth panel. Making introductions in the “green room” beforehand can help hugely to make sure there’s no awkwardness between panellists, and basic as it sounds, knowing everyone’s names and which business they’re from is moderating 101. A well organised moderator stands out a mile compared to one who isn’t, so as long as you’re happy to do the work, you’ll be sure to get a lot out of it in return
Asked to moderate an all male panel?
There’s an increased trend in having solo women moderators on all male panels. It makes the panel feel more diverse, but doesn’t quite achieve the goal of ensuring diverse voices are heard equally in full. There are arguments on both sides here, some people refuse to accept these positions because it doesn’t fully embrace the point of diversity in panels. Some people take them, because they know they can help to push forward a voice that otherwise might not have been heard. It’s entirely up to you whether you take these opportunities, and there’s no one right way to manage your agenda. Do what feels right for you, and respect the decisions of people who choose to do it differently.