By Lisa Calhoun
Last week in Scottsdale, I stepped off the stage to lots of applause for my panel. I had just finished moderating the Closing General Session of the World Retail Alliance. My panel’s presentation had ranged from augmented reality to retail positioning systems, from facial recognition systems to associate intelligence support props — so when the audience and the CEOs on our panel said thank you for a “great job moderating” I felt really good. They came across as the brilliant leaders they are. But it wasn’t an accident.
This keynote panel experience made me realize I could share some tips to help my fellow moderators achieve the same kind of results. Here are some of my go-to tactics for moderating an engaging keynote conversation—it’s a process anyone who wants to can master.
- Hold the initial “Panel Introduction & Issue Discussion” a few weeks out. I organized a video conference with my panelists about three weeks before our event. We used this time to outline topics and areas of expertise. I was also using our scheduled group conversation to unearth conflicts among my panelists that could make for spirited debate—or blow up my session. I sent a wrap up email to all panelists after that conversation with the topics and areas of expertise. That also served as some of my prep notes.
- Warm up the panel on-site. The evening before our event, most of our panel was able to accept an invitation to go to dinner together. Most of the panel had not met before. This opportunity to relax together and get to know each other as human beings built a rapport that was obvious on stage.
- Check in with the conference organizer. I and my panelists arrived for the closing general session understandably late in the conference. My first order of business was to check in with the conference meeting planner and get early feedback on what areas and topics the conference was “light” on. That way, the content from our panel could put a finishing “bow” on any unaddressed issues surfacing during the conference. Touching base with the conference organizer also helped with technicalities—she gave me a glowing introduction to the light and sound panel crew so I could make sure my people looked terrific.
- Go over the graphics. With the light and sound people, I double checked the graphics that would be used for our session. In fact, there were quite a few changes we needed to make—and I made sure that happened.
- Work the audience before the panel. I arrived about 30 minutes before our session, during the coffee break. I walked around, breaking into small conversational groups, to introduce myself as the moderator of the Closing General Session. I asked for questions. I got commitments from people to participate. I smiled and thanked everyone for coming—before they showed up.
- Prebrief your panel right before going on stage. Before we went on stage, we had a moment when we could mingle in the audience. I asked my panel to go out and meet at least 2 people before they walked up on stage. Having the panel welcome audience members starts to create that personal connection that can free people to really open up and share outstanding information.
If you’re set to moderate soon, I hope these steps help you. Please let me know if you have any secrets for outstanding panel moderation so we can add to this list!