The process of preparing for this panel discussion has been a long and arduous task, but I feel ready. In order to moderate an event well, you have to have a strategy in place and excellent time management skills. Since I didn't have anyone to help me the first time I moderated, I wanted to write this blog post to help those of you who may be doing this in the future.
10 Tips to Moderate Your Event Successfully
1) Research the Panelists
On average, I start to research the panelists 2-3 weeks prior to the event. In the beginning, I only lightly read the things I find to slowly familiarize myself with them. After that, around two weeks before the event, I go deeper into their work and professional experience. I also start to take notes using Word, which I will incorporate into my outline for the actual event. When it's a week before, I already have pages of notes about each panelist and can easily--off the cuff--tell a stranger their biography. Yes, I know it sounds like it may be too much, but you want to over prepare rather than under prepare. Why? If you're at the event and don't know anything about the panelists, your credibility is immediately destroyed.
2) Know Your Audience
The first thing I research before agreeing to moderate an event is the audience. Luckily, you usually know what the audience will be like once you know the venue and event. For example, as I prepare to moderate the event at UCLA, I can automatically assume that there will be college students, professors, and faculty members in the audience. So, with that information, I am now able to shape my questions and content. I urge you to take time to really think about your audience and what you want them to get from the panelists. My goal at the UCLA event, since the panelists have a lot of web experience, is to ask various questions about how young individuals can get started making online content. I also have a set of questions geared to the professors and faculty members. You must know who is sitting in front of you!
3) Prepare Questions
Prepare more questions than you'll need. I often practice in front of my father who was a SVP of a major company back in the day and has experience public speaking. When I was getting ready for my first panel I said, "It's a short discussion; I won't need a lot of questions." My father said, "If you have twenty questions, you should have forty ready to ask." That was some of the best advice ever! Coincidentally, the audience wasn't talkative or asking questions, so I would have been in a tough situation if I only had twenty questions prepared.
How many questions do you need? For every hour of the event, write out at least 15 questions. So, if the event is from 7-10, have 45 questions prepared. That way, if something goes wrong or if you have extra time, you aren't thrown off your game.
4) Type Everything Out
Please do this. I don't care if you've practiced five hundred times in front of your dog; you will need this paper because we all are capable of forgetting. Sometimes when I get on a stage, my nerves get to me and I blank out. But when I remember I have that piece of paper, I feel relieved. Sometimes I still need to bust it out, but usually I don't. There's something about knowing you can fall back on it that helps. Anything you can do that'll make you feel more at ease, do it!
5) Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice even when you feel like it's perfect. Then, practice again and again and again. If you're new to moderating, I would say going over everything from top to bottom in front of 5-10 people is best. If you're experienced, still do it. No one is immune to mistakes, nerves, and needing a little support.
6) Get to the Venue Early
So, you live only five miles away and know the venue like the back of your hand? That doesn't matter; still plan on arriving an hour early. You never know what may come up.
Since I live in Los Angeles, parking is always a challenge. For a recent panel I was moderating, I left an hour and a half early to go 6 miles. I arrived at the location over an hour early but couldn't find parking. After an hour and on the brink of being late, I finally found a space. If I didn't have that cushion, I would have missed the event!
Also, being there early allows you the chance to get used to the room. Where's the nearest clock? How big is the room? Is it too hot or cold? How many people are in the audience? Do you have a projector or any other equipment you can utilize?
7) Be Cool and Be Real
Be yourself. Don't try to act or be someone you're not. Just know that who you are is perfect and that you were hired to moderate because you're awesome. I know that is can be nerve racking and sometimes you may wonder if you can do it. You can. Remain relaxed and calm. If you need to meditate, chant, or take a shot before the event, go ahead and do it. I guarantee the audience will respond better when you let your guard down and act as you normally do.
8) Stay on Schedule
It's easy to start the event and get lost in what the panelists are saying, or simply lose track of time. You won't always have the director of the event to keep you on schedule, or some random intern. So, that means as you practice, you must practice with time in mind. Yes, use a stop watch. Make sure you have an idea of how long a panelist gets to speak for each question.
That's why getting to the venue early is so critical. If you don't see a clock nearby, you'll have time to find one and place it in a good area.
9) Don't Force it
Sometimes you'll be moderating an event and the audience won't give you anything! Meaning, you will hear silence. You can't yell at them and say, "Ask a question!" That would be rude. So, you have a few options: start asking questions or create a new conversation with the panelists. I would recommend going into questions when the audience is silent; usually, they will feel inspired to eventually say or ask something.
10) 'Thank' Everyone
When the event is over, offer your gratitude to the panelists and the audience. Go up to the panelists and express this, and also e-mail each one after the event. Also, make sure to e-mail the person who asked you to moderate the event. Professionalism is key. That's how you stand out as well. When you do a great job moderating plus you're professional and humble, people want to work with you again. Make contacts, network, and be gracious. It can lead to more work and more money. Who doesn't like money?
I hope these tips helped! Have you ever moderated an event? If so, how did it go? Share your stories and experiences. I'd love to hear them! And if there's anything else you want to add, feel free to do so!