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I was not there, but have been witness to it before. The host (or hostess), moderator or interviewer who, for one reason or another, just didn’t deliver.
In case you missed it, there was a lot of commentary and buzz around Sarah Lacy’s interview of Mark Zuckerberg at SXWS last week. I’m not going to wade into who was right or if the comments were justified. Watch the video and judge for yourself. Then, see her response to the situation. When I watched it, I was looking for why and when the audience turned on her. It was interesting as I thought parts of the interview were really good while I also found myself cringing as some parts were hard to watch.
So, instead of studying this example any further, I thought I would do something constructive instead. Having been bestowed the honor of moderating/interviewing in front of a crowd a few times myself, I thought I would offer some simple tips in terms of how to effectively lead a session. They are:
– Be gracious and welcoming.
– As the moderator, remember you are not who people came to see or hear. The audience is there to hear the panelists or interviewee. At all times, keep the audience focused on the person/people being interviewed.
– Your job is to make the panelists look brilliant. You are a facilitator.
– Leave any personal or professional bias at the door.
– Don’t try to be controversial or overly provocative. You are the voice of… wait for it, … moderation.
– Manage the time of the session wisely. Change topics and direction to keep the discussion lively.
– Prepare yourself to be spontaneous.
– Get to know the participants, their backgrounds and points of view on the subject matter. Ensure participants know the flow of the session but are not over prepared to come off as rehearsed.
– Make sure all panelists have a chance to speak. Ask a particular panelist to answer a question if you sense the conversation is not evenly distributed.
– Ask a question and get out of the way.
– Don’t interrupt. And, make sure everyone has a chance to chime in with an answer before you move on.
– Rapport with the audience and panelists is a good thing, but there are limits. Don’t let your personality take over.
– Inside jokes fall flat. Leave them at home. No one benefits.
– Start with a statement then quickly follow with a question. Questions without context setting are just as bad as rambling statements not followed by a question.
– Leave lots of time for questions and work the room. In a 45 minute session, leave 15-20 for questions. (Hint: takes some of the pressure off the moderator.)
– Read the audience, feel the vibe of the room. If things go wrong, be humble and keep things moving forward. Don’t use the stage as a platform to defend yourself or the panelists. Take the high road.
For more on this, Guy Kawasaki has a great post on moderating a panel (although I disagree with a couple of his points). And, if you have any other tips or advice, I’d love to hear. Please leave a comment.