How to be a great panel moderator

Recently, I have attended a lot of events with panel discussions. At one event, I watched 8 panel discussions in a day. As the day wore on I tried to analyse what separated the good, the bad and the ugly!

Moderating the panel at the Spotlight on Japan International Women's Day event Photo Credit: LIFE14
Moderating the panel at the Spotlight on Japan International Women’s Day event Photo Credit: LIFE14

Based on my own experience as a moderator, I’ve created 9 things you need to do as a successful moderator of a panel. What have I missed?

1. You need to have a plan

What is this panel for?

An entertaining way to spend 1 hour?

Killing time before the final keynote – probably you have bigger dreams that that!

Just as with a presentation, you should think in advance of the key takeaways that you want for the audience. You might not get them all as you will always have an element of spontaneity in there with different conversations on the day.

Think about:

What are the key takeaways you expect from this session? How does it fit into the overall flow of the event or the panel series you are part of ? How do you expect your session to run? How will you allocate time on each topic. You need to share this plan with the panelists and event organizers ahead of time to make sure expectations are aligned

2. You need to think about the audience needs

As the panelist, you are the representative of the audience on the stage. It is your job to think about the demographics and what would be the most useful takeaways and discussion points. How much do people know about the topic at hand?

For me, a great moderator will help to break the fourth wall.
They can engage the audience needs either through a Q&A or directing comments to the room. They have gathered information about what the audience wants to know rather than what their personal interests are.

Personally, if I know the panelists well, it can be interesting to build them up by saying why they were chosen to participate, what you expect them to bring to the panel 

Reading out the bio is generally a waste of time as most conferences have a literate audience who can check it out if they are interested.
Opening with a few minutes of general comments around the theme can be useful but it is easy for this to become a static talking heads round robin so be sure to watch out for that.

Connect and engage with the panelists – Listen and Enjoy

3. You need to connect with the panelists

Ideally meet the panelists before the event – face to face is great, virtually is also fine! And this meeting should not be 10 minutes before the panel. Find out if they have been on a panel before? What are their expectations and how are they aligned with yours?

It is great to go through questions or themes with them. Pick up on interesting stories that show diversity of thought and experience.

As an audience member, it can feel wonderful to be a fly on the wall in a high-level conversation that flows naturally. As a moderator you need to work to develop that camaraderie with panelists before the event.

Be careful not to take the camaraderie too far though. At a recent event, I felt like a voyeur as the conversation was too intimate, too many in jokes. It almost felt like the two speakers had forgotten we were there!

4. You need to build a connection between the panelists

Can you get the panelists together beforehand? Can they collaborate on a call or a shared document? The litmus test of a great panel is when the panelists are bouncing ideas off each other, listening and building on the previous persons statements.

I’ve seen panel discussions which were a series of 10 minute PPT presentations with no interaction between the speakers and no building on the ideas raised. It’s fine to have that format for speaker presentations with lots of short speeches but don’t advertise it as a panel discussion!

5. You need to be inclusive

Is everyone speaking? How much airtime are they getting? the bigger the panel, the less people speak. Melissa Thomas-Hunt did interesting research on who speaks in meetings. With 5 people in the room, 2 people will speak for 70% of the time. When 8 people are in the room, 3 people will speak for 67% of the time. As an inclusive moderator you need to manage this. At a recent conference, I saw one speaker so completely dominate that one of the other panelists was staring at the ceiling, totally disengaged!

Airtime in meetings

In terms of inclusion, are different opinions and approaches being given airtime? Having controversial and diverse approaches supports audience learning and brings some zest to your panel.

Make sure the staging is so that you can make eye contact with everyone. Is there someone who you suspect will dominate the conversation?
One idea comes from the old adage “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer”

This can allow you to give them a nudge if they are going on too long. If you must share a microphone, you can even hold it so they have to ask for it! Beware though if they are sitting next to you, it can be easy for them to turn their back to you and not read your non-verbals. Be ready and willing to politely interrupt and give space to other people.

6. You need to be passionate about the subject

As the moderator, you need to drum up excitement and set the tone for the discussion. Bringing your own ideas to the panel is fine but “know your place” – you are not there as the only expert. You are there to bring the expert ideas to light!

However, keep your questions precise. Big lead ups where you show your passion and knowledge and then ask multiple questions, only complicate issues for panelists. KISS!

7. You need to be able to think on your feet

If you are going through the motions and sticking slavishly to your plan, you panel will feel formulaic. Listening and building on themes that become important makes a naturally engaging panel.

It is also important to know if there are any taboo topics that panelists or the event organizers want you to steer clear of. How will you handle them if they come up in discussion or in the Q&A?

8. You need to wrap up the key points

The moderators role is to make sense of the different ideas raised. You can do this after each theme or just in your concluding comments. What were the new pieces of information that were shared? What should the audience remember.

9. You need to finish on time

Make sure you have someone watching the clock for you and giving you time countdowns. It is absolutely fine to cut speakers, to guide when people go off topic.

You also need to keep your Q&A under control – reminders for single questions so more people can get involved is usually helpful. You may want to source questions before hand and plant people in the audience to get things started depending on your demographic. Remember to take questions from around the space and to be mindful of sourcing questions from a broad array of audience members.

I hope this has been a useful guide if you have a moderator role coming up!

Looking for a moderator or panelist for your next event in Japan? Feel free to contact me to discuss how we might collaborate.

Celebrate and Innovate

On June 29th, 2018, I’m celebrating the start of my third year in business as a Facilitator and Leadership Coach. I am extremely grateful to my family, community and clients for enabling me to bring so much energy to my work, to help so many individuals improve their own performance as leaders and professionals in Japan. I’m so lucky to have the trust and support of so many wonderful people.

Thank you!

I am intensely focused on working with groups within organisations, developing cross-functional communication and deeper understanding of diverse points of view. I love the passionate discussions, aha moments and feedback about the impact the training had on team performance and relationships.

What has changed in Year 2?

  • I’ve continued to expand my knowledge base – Professional Certified Coach with ICA, Points of You® Certified Trainer, Management 3.0 Fundamentals, Tara Mohr Playing Big Facilitators Course, BerkeleyX: GG101x The Science of Happiness. Constantly learning new ideas to help clients connect the dots.
  • Developed new collaborations with Japanese Facilitators including WinBE (Women In Business Empowerment), Points of You® Japan and fellow independent facilitators.
  • I’ve been able to take on some really interesting clients and projects. I’m really able to focus on work that I am passionate about rather than what pays the mortgage. What a gift!
  • I got hooked on Spartan Racing and completed another 2 races in Japan.

 

What trends have I noticed from corporate clients?

  • Increased desire to support employees through organizational change
  • Focus on creating cultures of open and healthy communication
  • Presenting and influencing others continues to be a highly sought after skillset
  • Maturing of the discussion from diversity as a single-issue gender model to addressing wider issues of inclusion in some clients
  • Developing innovation through inclusion of diverse thought

What can you expect from me in Year 3?

Themes for workshops and support will focus on:

  • Innovation through Inclusion
  • Developing Ikigai within your Organization
  • Resilience during Change
  • Connecting the Unconnected – people, ideas or companies

To support these outcomes, I’ll continue to offer presentation skills, cross-cultural training and Points of You® Practitioner Training. My focus is on developing bite-sized development opportunities with shorter workshop sessions, on the job experiments followed by group coaching and reflection.

I will continue to support work style reform and women’s empowerment in Japan through my CSR activities:

 

Thank you again for being part of the journey. Looking forward to collaborating and learning together.

Please do follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn.  I post articles, videos and event reports regularly about training and development in inclusion, communication and change management in Tokyo.

Your personal bonenkai and shinnenkai

It’s that time of year when we are inundated with invitations for 忘年会 bonenkai, “forget the year party” and 新年会 shinnenkai, “new year party”.

I’d like to offer you something a little different – your own personal bonenkai and shinnenkai coaching “Party Plan”! These limited 2-sessions will help you o celebrate your achievements, learn from any setbacks and set you up for a successful 2018.

These party plans come with a no hangover guarantee! And as they will take place online via Zoom conference, you won’t have to travel home on the train with a load of drunk salarymen! Sign up today or keep reading to find out more.

So what’s included?

Session 1: Bonenkai – End of Year Party

A guided 60-minute coaching session focusing on celebrating success.

Prior to the session, you can take the time to complete an end of year review. We can then focus on teasing out the main themes that will help you to see what your strengths are and how you can leverage them in 2018.

What have been some of my greatest achievements?
How did I overcome obstacles?
Which moments were most important to me?
What would I like to leave behind in 2017?

The output of this session will be used in Session 2: Shinnenkai

Session 2: Shinnenkai – New Year Party

A guided 60-minute planning session focusing on your masterplan for 2018!

Using the output from the Bonenkai session, you will be ready to set rich and motivating goals for 2018. Using the Four Tendencies Framework from Gretchen Rubin, you will be able to put in place structures that can support your top three goals.

What do I wish for myself for the new year?
What am I willing / want to do in order to achieve that?
How can I make goals that motivate me and move the needle on what I value?

Investment

Book your limited-edition 2 session Party Plan today for ¥30,000 plus tax.

Both sessions need to be used by the end of February 2018.

Sign up today

FAQ

1. Hang on! I don’t have time to use the session in December!

Don’t worry. Sign ups will close on December 31st but you have until the end of February to use both session. Email me to register today.

2. Can I give this as a holiday gift?

Absolutely! Just let me know the contact details of the recipient and I will follow up with them on December 27th. Email me today to sign up.

3. I’m not sure if coaching is right for me. How can I find out more?

Take the 5 question “Are you ready for coaching?” quiz and I will follow up to set up a free 15 minute discovery call so you can find out more.

Presentation Zen in practice

 

In mid June, my husband received a phone call from the 6th grade teacher at our daughter’s school. “Shinkai san, do you think your wife would be able to make a presentation about england to the 5th and 6th graders on the day before the summer holidays? With the Rio Olympics coming up, the last Olympics being held in London, the next Olympics being in Tokyo, we thought it might be interesting for them to hear from her…”

As a cross-cultural communication and diversity and inclusion consultant, I’m always happy to have an opportunity to raise awareness of other perspectives. I ignored the fact that the request went to my husband and not to me directly (language worries? indirect approach to prevent losing face? sexism? – a post for another time!), and said “Yes”.

Having recently read Presentation Zen, I decided to put some of Garr Reynolds’ ideas into practice. Here’s how applying his concepts influenced the presentation preparation, design and delivery.

Start with the end in mind

Reynolds asks you to focus on message. What is the goal of your presentation? What is the big idea you are selling?

The killer question you need to answer is:

If your audience could remember only three things about your presentation what would you want it to be?

In this case, I wanted them to remember:

  1. To be open minded – there is not one way of doing things in the world.
  2. Igirisu (イギリス)is not just England.
  3. To cheer on team GB.

Know your audience as much as possible

Reynolds ask you to focus on basic “W questions”  when preparing for a presentation

Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the event?

Why were you asked to speak? Where is it? When is it?

Most of these kids have never travelled overseas, some have never spoken to a non-Japanese person apart from an English language teacher. It was important that I was approachable, friendly and interesting.

With the presentation being held on the day before the summer holidays, this audience was probably a little distracted about the prospect of six weeks of freedom! How would I keep the engaged.

Using this audience knowledge, I used the following approach

  • Made all the content about school life, it was easy for them to grasp the concepts.
  • Included the experience of their schoolmate, my daughter, in the presentation to make it feel more tangible.
  • Brought real money for them to hold and made them move about in the quiz. Active experience and brought the kinesthetic learners into the mix too.

Planning in analogue

This was a real game changer for me. I was able to cut out a lot of fluff. Working with post it notes really helped me to distill the content to the most useful parts.

Reynolds points out that when we work in a presentation software we make our story fit the template and it limits our thinking and creativity. Being forced to follow a cookie cutter approach makes us deliver cookie cutter presentations.

Limit bullet points and text

I’ve been subjected to some terrible, text-heavy slide decks recently so I took Reynolds advice on board happily.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.05.26 PM
Applying Presentation Zen design concepts to the slide deck

Almost no text at all, just full-bleed, high-resolution images. This really helped when it came to delivery. We had no projector for the first 15 minutes!

At all times: courteous, gracious, & professional

When your icebreaker requires pencil crayons and paper and you realise that the students are empty handed…it’s time for a visualisation exercise.

When no one knows how to connect the projector for the first ten minutes…it’s time for an engaging run around the audience with your laptop in your hands.

When you realise that there is too much furniture for your interactive quiz to work…keep the quiz but change your approach

As Reynolds says, “The true professional can always remain cool and in control.”

The results: 

I received individual handwritten thank you letters from the students.  From the feedback I can see how well the Presentation Zen approach worked in practice.

Comments about their jealousy of no school on Saturday, surprise over the way that lunch is served and that there are no walking groups showed that the audience realised there were different ways of doing things around the world.

Students repeated the facts we discussed and said  “I did not know anything about the UK before your presentation. Now I know more, I would really like to go there”.

And as for team GB…they just got 60 new supporters! My favourite comment was “I will cheer on team GB in the Olympics. But if Japan and Team GB are competing with each other, sorry, I’m going to have to cheer on Japan”. Love the honesty!

If you haven’t read Presentation Zen yet, head over to Amazon asap

What other resources do you recommend for presentation skills?

Please leave your ideas in the comments below!