Saturday, December 2, 2017

41 Points on How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

I recently had my Julius Yego moment. In case you aren’t aware Julius Yego is a Kenyan track and field athlete who competes in the javelin throw. At the 2015 World Championships he won the gold medal with a throw of 92.72m, becoming the first Kenyan to win a World Championships gold medal in a field event. He won silver at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a real big deal winning a gold at worlds and silver at Olympics, more so if you are first one from your country (known for champion long-distance running athletes). But Yego’s claim to fame isn’t just that. He is also nick-named as “Mr. YouTube” because he learned how to throw by watching YouTube videos.

Wait, can one really become a world champion by simply self-training using new learning methods? Apparently, yes as is evident from Julius Yego’s success.

Now, why did I start with this story?

In the past, I have been invited as a panellist quite a few times for a panel discussions. Apart from the fun and honour associated with being a part of the panel, what I like about being a part of these events is the act of preparation.

Recently, for an industry conference, (Topic: Resolving Technology Transfer Conflicts, will write more about it in a separate blog) I was asked to moderate the panel. To simplify the terminology in the panel discussion parlance, there are 2 type of players in a panel discussion. One are the panellists who are the experts in the panel discussion topic and brings in skillful point of views. Second player is the moderator whose main role is to lead the conversation. Moderator is the one who asks questions and extracts the best out panellists (of course, there is more to the role as we will see later in this blog).

I thought of it as a great opportunity but there was only one problem- I hadn’t moderated a panel talk ever before.

There wasn’t enough time for me to buy and read books (if at all such books existed) on moderating panel talk so I went ahead to explore other modes of learning and defaulted to searching YouTube.
Searching through the public panel discussions Incidentally, I got some interesting videos to watch. While watching the videos, I sat with pen and paper and started noting the points that I found relevant to my upcoming panel discussion. One of the views that I always kept in my sight while learning was that of visualizing my panel talk and tried to envision the start, how I conduct myself, how I ask a question, how I inject the humor, how is audience reacting, visualizing almost every key thing about the discussion.

As I have experienced from my running exploits, visualization is a key skill to master especially when you are trying to learn something you have never done before. I hold a strong belief that whatever eventually happens, happens 2 times. One in the mind (prior to the event) and one in reality. This holds good for both possible outcomes- successes and failures. What I trying to allude to is that if we create positive images at the outset, it may not guarantee 100% success but it will certainly increase the chances of the endeavor being successful.

So here I am with the list that I came up with and followed while moderating the panel talk.

About Panel talks and the role of the moderator:

1. Fundamentally, Panel talks are a conversation.

2. Like with any conversation, discourse are as necessary as agreements.

3. Role of a moderator is to help audience get their needs met.

4. It's all about the audience.

5. Moderator should be good at multi-taking.

6. Moderator is a champion for audience.

7. If you (moderator) thinks that the audience needs are not being met, step-in.

8. Moderator also plays the role of a facilitator.

9. Moderator's role is not about making one-self look brilliant but to put the entire focus on panelists.

10. Moderator's role is to keep time, to ensure that the talk starts and ends on time.

11. Moderator's role is also that of an Instigator. He/she makes sure that there is a difference in point of view at the beginning.

12. Moderator ensures content curation.

13. Moderator's role is also that of an energizer. He/she should strive to add doses of humour wherever appropriate.

14. Moderator should ensure that there are a lot of takeaways for the audience.

15. Moderator also plays a role of logistician. He/She knows the right contacts who handle the AV and other logistical aspects to ensure comfort and less ambiguity for panellists.

16. Moderator need to be neutral and objective.

17.  Moderator needs to ensure that the panel is active all the time.

18. Moderator, no matter how-so-ever knowledgeable he/she is in the topic under discussion, should not feel obliged to contribute contents.

19. Moderator should ask for audience profile and study the kind of people and align the questions accordingly.

During the panel talk:

20. It ensures for a better connection with the audience to start with a personal story around the topic under discussion. Stories often acts as a hook and gives a feeling that it’s going to be different.

21. Give the instructions to the audience around twitter posting and any instructions around minimizing distractions such as mobile phone usage.

22. Focus intensely on the person you are speaking to.

23. Moderator should maintain a positive body language and should exhibit the sense of being in control of the situation. Choose to smile wisely, appropriately.

24. One way to deal with the conversation during the panel talk is “Ping-pong style”. In Ping pong style, moderator asks a question to first panellist. After the response, in a ping-pong style, the ball (next question) again goes to next panellist and comes back o moderator. This is a good way to initiate the conversation but adopting ping-pong style throughout the session will make it monotonous and boring.

25. Ensure that panellists starts talking to each other as soon as possible. i.e. without moderator necessarily having to ask a question always. Panelists talking to each other makes the conversation sound more natural.

26. Ensure that there is a balance of airtime between panellists and one or two panellists do no dominate the conversation.

27. Be flexible. It is not necessary to follow the pre-planned sequence. Moderator has to be very mindful of conversation happening, should have heightened levels of awareness during the talk. Using these skills, should drive the conversations.

28. In addition to being aware, moderator should be thinking 2-3 steps ahead and drive the discussion towards the knowledge that the audience is seeking.

29. Moderator should ask probing questions.

30. Moderator should acknowledge the type of audience and ask question on their behalf.

31. Moderator should have synthesizing capabilities i.e. he/she should be able to adequately summarize what one panellist says and also build bridges between what one panellist says vs others. The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.

32. Moderator should do prior research about the panellists’ interests and try and talk about a shared passion with the speaker. Personalizing the talk experience helps retain the audience interest.

33. Moderator should ensure that the conversation between the panellists is not very agreeable, some disagreeability/controversial questions should be designed in the talk. The disagreements should be respectful.

34. Moderator should ask the questions that addresses the elephant in the room.

35. Moderator should touch the future while questioning. Ask for views.

36. Moderator should leave enough time for audience Q&A.

37. While handling Q&A, request the people to introduce themselves in a way that’s relevant to discussion.

38. If less questions are coming from the audience, moderator should use the phrases and the body language that encourages people to participate.

39. In interest of time, it’s best to ask people not to give a lengthy context while asking questions and to keep questions crisper.

40. Towards the end, effectively summarize entire discussion for the benefit of the audience.

41. Closing: Thank audience for the participation and attendance. Have the audience applause the panelists.

Hope you found this list useful. If you did, please comment/and or share.

I would like to thank my YouTube teachers, whose names along with the body of work as as below. I learned from them and admire their efforts and skills immensely.

Kirsten Arnold on her 7 vidoes on how to moderate a panel talk

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