If you’ve been asked to serve as a moderator at a national trade-show or conference, congratulations!
Taking on this challenge is a wonderful opportunity to make contact with experts in your field and to help accomplish the goals of the conference.
As moderator, you are the CEO (Chief Emcee Officer) of your event! Your role is critical to the session’s success, so don’t take it lightly or underestimate its importance. If this is your first experience as moderator, or even if you’ve done it dozens of times before, you must understand your job and prepare accordingly in order to be effective.
You may be thinking, I’ve got this! All I have to do is get up on stage and read the speaker’s bio, right? Not so fast.
Consider the acronym HITT (Host, Introduce, Transition, Time) to make it easy to remember the four roles the moderator plays before and during the event and what you can do to ensure the session achieves the desired goals.
As moderator, you are the host that welcomes and brings everyone together.
Think of it as hosting a gathering in your own home. Help your guests become acquainted with one another and facilitate conversations by sharing details you know about them.
Consider the audience, speaker and/or panel of presenters as your guests. Understand the topic they are there to share and its purpose as well as what each speaker brings to table. Seek to understand why the audience members would want to attend this session. Armed with this level of information, you can now facilitate a conversation that makes them all feel welcome, comfortable and mutually understood.
As the host of the event, it’s your job to introduce the speaker or panel to the audience. If you simply get up and read each speaker’s bio, you’re setting the stage for an uphill battle. With this type of ho-hum intro, you risk losing the attention of the audience, derailing the session’s momentum, and even damaging the speaker’s credibility.
Instead, get to know your speaker in advance of the event. Schedule some time to talk about the following:
- What is the importance of the speaker’s topic, both to them and to the audience?
- Why is the speaker passionate about the subject?
- Why was this speaker asked to share information with the community attending the conference?
- Why should the audience want to listen to this person, at this time, on this topic?
Once you’ve had this conversation, you’re prepared to introduce the speaker as a friend, as someone that the audience will be pleased to meet. Keep your introduction genuine and quick (30 seconds should be sufficient).
Whether your event features a single speaker with a Q&A or a panel of 3 or 4 speakers, you as moderator are the glue that brings together the different elements of the presentation to achieve a cohesive purpose.
I like to think of the moderator as someone who is holding my hand and guiding me to understand exactly what the session is meant to accomplish for me as a listener. To do that, you need to understand the topic as a whole as well as the content of each speaker’s presentation. Your transition statements should tie these together and help deliver a key takeaway message to the audience.
Transitions do not need to be long. A sentence or a phrase can often be enough. But these quick statements help listeners understand where they’ve been and where they are going.
As host, you’re in charge of planning how time breaks out for your session, and communicating that information to your team.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your session is 50 minutes total. You’ll need 5 minutes up front for the audience to be seated, for housekeeping and introductions. Another 5 minutes will be needed at the end for final comments and a strong summary statement, and to remind the audience about evaluations. If you’re doing Q&A, you may want to allocate another 10 minutes. That leaves 30 minutes for a single speaker’s presentation. If you have multiple speakers or a panel, it’s critical that each person understands exactly how much time he or she is allotted and sticks to that time limit.
Take the time to do the math! Assign a timekeeper who can use cards or some other signal to keep everyone stay on schedule. Once one speaker runs over by even a minute, it has a domino effect and the entire session can run too long.
As we’ve seen, the moderator is not a sideshow role. Successful delivery of an educational session requires a partnership between you and the speakers on your team. As the CEO of your event, it’s your place to reach out to the team and make time for the following joint preparations:
1. Schedule time with team members to review the content of their presentations and discuss introductions.
2. Develop transitions and introductions. Be sure to send introductions to each speaker for their input.
3. Practice out loud and verify how much total time is needed to do both the introductions and transitions.
When you understand your role as moderator and take these steps to prepare the entire team for a successful event, everybody wins.