How To Be An Awesome Speaker Moderator

First published: May 2021

Your event is just around the corner and you have pulled together a great roster of speakers, and have begun to think – how do I prepare my Speaker Moderator to make sure the conversation is memorable for the audience?

In 2021 I moderated six Speaker Panels, and here are some of the great tips I learned from personal experience along the way.

The Role of a Moderator

I often think of great moderators such as Jimmy Fallon or Ellen DeGeneres as “surrogate audience members”. They understand the importance of putting themselves in the shoes of their audience, and ask the questions they would want to know. They are friendly, lighthearted, and always make sure to make the panelist look good. They are essentially the bridge between the audience and the panelists. Their skills are really put to test when you see them asked the most intimate or controversial questions to which you will see answered in the most graceful way. The reason you see these forms of questions is simply to help extract the juicy details and stories that the audience is dying to learn about, while maintaining a positive atmosphere for the panelist and audience alike.

Techniques That Professional Moderators Use

Beginner ModeratorsProfessional Moderators
Allows the panelists to self-introduce themselvesHosts a pre-interview with the panelists prior to the event to get to know them, then introduces the panelists in a compelling way
Asks the same question to each moderatorAsks different, tailored questions, to each panelist
Sticks to “safe” topicsAsks about “controversial” topics in a graceful way, revealing the intimate facts that the audience really wants to hear
Allows panelists to drone on, even if their answers are long and boringWill politely cut off panelists and switch topics as needed.
Sticks to asking open-ended questions“What is the biggest lesson in your career?”Uses both open-ended and close-ended questions.
“Let’s hear a quick response from each of our panelists, and then hear both viewpoints. What’s more important, to pursue your passion or the opportunity?”
Conversation follows a similar pattern of question and answer.Allows the panelists to react and speak freely to each other, creating a more genuine conversation.
“Mary, you seemed to really smile at Steve’s answer there. Is there anything you’d like to share?”
Allows audience members to ask questions at the end of the eventAllows audience questions at multiple times throughout the show, to keep things interesting
Uses no visual aids or propsIncludes at least one visual aid or prop to delight the panelists and guests

Stakeholders At Your Event

There are four different stakeholders at your event, and you want to make sure you cater to each of their areas of interests when manoeuvring the discussion.

Organizers – Want to make sure the show runs on time, on budget, and everyone leaves satisfied
Panelists – Want to make themselves and their companies good, without bragging. Want to develop their brand and reputation
Audience – Want to be entertained, educated, inspired, and able to network with above groups
Moderator – To coordinate everyone above and ensure each group enjoys the discussion

Formulating Your Question List

You can formulate your question list by placing yourself in the shoes of each of the group members talked about above. So this means that you should be first thinking like an audience, member, then a panelist, then bridging all those together.
To formulate your questions, keep the following topics in mind:

  • Who are the attendees of this event?
  • What is the reason that they signed up for this event?
  • How much do the audience members already know about this topic? What are they looking to learn?
  • What would they hypothetically want to ask, but may shy away from asking directly? Why?

The next step is to research the panelists. Ponder these questions below to formulate some in-depth questions:

  • What are the panelists most significant career achievements? (Ask how they did it)
  • What are the most admirable or inspiring qualities about this panelist? (Ask what their secret is)
  • What important messages are important for this panelist to share?
  • Are there any entertaining or funny topics that you can glean from this panelists profile?
  • What “call to actions” would the panelists like to share with the audience at the end of the show? (Some want others to follow them on Twitter, some prefer to be left alone)

Follow these tips, and at the end of the event you’ll have your audience members and panelists come up and tell you what a great job you did! It’s a great feeling, as well as an outstanding way to grow your reputation and career.

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