How to moderate an interesting event (seriously)

Time is precious in Brussels. We work long hours and most of us plan our days meticulously. In the beginning, when you first start out, probably as an intern, you spend a lot of time attending evening discussions and networking events. To meet people yes, but also because the topic or the speaker is of interest to you.

Why? Because the event is often something you wouldn’t be able to attend in your home country. Brussels is a place world leaders and elusive experts pass through every day. But as time goes on, you realise that energy is precious too. We become a lot more selective about what we attend and why. After all, we’re not just any audience. Young professionals may make up the bulk of any evening panel discussion, but our personal time is something to be cherished. We’re not just their to listen. We’re there to take part.

One of the more frustrating things about evening events of this type, is that they often follow the same format. One or two expert speakers and a moderator, whose task it is to make the next two to three hours you’ve taken out of your personal time worthwhile.

Event organisers often make the mistake of thinking that having an interesting speaker equals having an interesting event. In fact, whether the audience goes home happy, or cursing your very existence, is almost entirely down to the moderator. A moderator who understands what makes an event truly interesting is one who engages their audience.

Here are some classic traits of moderators who almost categorically fail in doing their event justice (about 95%, but maybe that’s just our impression):

  1. Allowing the speaker to speak for as long as they wish on any topic they wish
  2. Allowing one speaker to dominate the others or interrupt constantly
  3. Failing to do their homework on the most up-to-date topics up for discussion
  4. Failing to research the speakers and their expertise sufficiently beforehand
  5. Leaving too little time for questions
  6. Allowing two or three follow up questions when others are waiting to participate
  7. Being unaware of the gender and age dynamics of audience participation
  8. Hogging the floor to demonstrate their own knowledge of the subject

There are more, but we don’t want to get carried away. It’s nearly Christmas. Season of good will and all that.

Moderators who Iead balanced and well-policed discussions, involving maximum audience participation, not only make events more memorable and enjoyable, but boost the reputation of the organisation hosting the event. Good moderation isn’t rocket science, but it does require confidence, preparation and practice. Here are some classic traits of moderators at interesting events for free, no charge:

  1. They are in control. They make sure everyone knows who’s boss in a fair and respectful way
  2. They keep time and are comfortable in interrupting speakers (honestly the audience will kiss you)
  3. They call speakers out on outrageous/sexist/small-minded comments
  4. They have made efforts to learn which topics which speaker can contribute most to
  5. They signal to the audience when and how they will be able to ask questions
  6. They enable maximum audience participation and maximum time for questions
  7. They are entirely concerned with not wasting the audience’s time
  8. They are not interested in imparting their own prejudices on the topic at hand

Article by Laura Hemmati, Leadarise Cofounder

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