10 Tips for Moderating Dynamic Virtual Meetings

10 Tips for Moderating Dynamic Virtual Meetings

Are you, like me, experiencing your own pandemic of webinars and meetings over various videoconference applications such as Zoom (my favourite), WebEx and Microsoft Team Meetings?

Are you that person who now turns off their camera citing connectivity issues so that you can focus on something else rather than actively take part in the videoconference? Or, as a friend related, that person who strategically places themselves with their back to the window or light so that all people see on the call is their silhouette?

It may be because the moderator is just failing to engage you and manage your limited attention span. That is not a criticism. We all have more limited attention spans when we are on these remote calls.

Here are some of my tips and techniques for moderating remotely so you captivate your audience. They are based on my experience as a former TV and radio journalist, panel moderator, public speaker and remote and in person trainer.

1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. You need to be highly prepared when moderating a virtual meeting and know clearly the outcomes, structure and agenda, tailoring your content to your audience.

2. Know your technology. You have to master the technology – mute/unmute icons, sharing screens, videos, using polling and brainstorming applications and the chat box. If you are hosting a large meeting, I recommend hiring a professional virtual producer.

3. Frame your shot. Make sure your eyes are 1/3 the way down the screen. This means you avoid too much headroom, which will make you lose authority. Do look straight into your built-in webcam. If you look down, you will appear condescending. If you look up, you will lose authority.

4. Be more animated than you are normally. If you want to keep your audience engaged, you have to be more expressive with your facial gestures, hands and voice modulation.

5. Give visual cues. Encourage participants by giving visual cues, like nodding your head to encourage people while they are speaking. If they speak for too long, you move slightly forward and open your mouth to show them that you are going to interrupt.

6. Explain the purpose, agenda and rules of engagement.
You have to be clearer and more structured than when you moderate in person. Remember to signpost throughout the session where you are going to reassure people that you are on track.

7. Frontload key points/messages. People remember best the first things they hear, so don’t bury your key messages in the middle when attention levels are at their lowest.

8. Actively listen.
You need to think only about what the participant is saying, not your next question or anything else that is going on. Show you are doing this by picking up on what they say and making smooth transitions to your next point or participant.

9. Manage the time. You need to manage the length of your presenters’ interventions and allow enough time for questions and answers orally or through the chat box.

10. Bring closure. Recap main points and outline next steps.


If you are interested in improving your remote moderating skills, Claire runs a webinar on how to be engaging and manage your audience’s attention span.

She coaches and trains remotely in the art of presenting, talking to the media, speechwriting, storytelling and panel moderating.

Unprecedented Pandemic Press Conference from Pharma Industry

Unprecedented Pandemic Press Conference from Pharma Industry

Travel bans, remote working and social distancing are making us all think creatively on how we can continue to interact and get our messages across to as many people as possible.

On Thursday, I was involved in what the main newspaper in French-speaking Switzerland, Le Temps, called an ” unprecedented online press conference” on the pharmaceutical industry’s response to COVID-19.

Working with an excellent team from Acumen public affairs, we brought together the heads of 5 global pharmaceutical companies for a press briefing with media from around the world – with just a week’s notice.

Here are my tips and lessons learnt on how to moderate a live studio discussion and press briefing. We are in unprecedented times but the tips apply to any studio setting.

Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse

Technicians at Actua films in Geneva spent the day before testing the video link ups over the open source platforms with the pharmaceutical companies, who were joining us from the US and Europe.

Some companies had their own studios; others went into nearby studios while others were in their office or joining us from home due to strict confinement conditions. We also tested 30 minutes before recording with the speakers themselves to make sure we had the right camera angles and sound.

Have a back-up plan

If the link went down, we had a plan B: to use a phone line and put up a photo with the speaker’s name on it. In fact, we had to use this a couple of times when we briefly lost video connection. They all quickly reappeared thanks to the quick response of the technicians.

Have someone in person in the studio

We had the Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), Thomas Cueni, in the studio to open and close the briefing. Having someone in the studio is a great back up too if the video links fail as the moderator has someone to direct questions to! Fortunately, this did not happen yesterday!

Set up your communications channels with the media clearly and in advance

We had numerous journalists from around the world joining us remotely. They could submit written questions by email before the transmission or when it started using the chat box in a link we sent. They also had the option to ask questions over Skype.

Clear instructions to the speakers

The speakers were highly accomplished. Many of them forget that even if they are not speaking, they can still be seen so that they need to be attentive throughout the discussion. Similarly they must not interrupt each other, as their mikes are open the whole time.

Signpost the process

At the beginning I told the media that I would lead 20 minutes of Q and A with the speakers online before we would take their questions. I also let the speakers know when we were going to wrap up.

Make sure the media questions are clearly visible and legible

It is not easy to read questions coming in on a screen and field them to the appropriate speaker. It helps if there is someone who can filter and redraft for clarity and accuracy. They can also be sent to the moderator’s Ipad with instructions on who should address which question.

Watch the screen for visual cues from the speakers

I told the speakers to give me a hand signal if they wanted to add to someone else’s answer or to take a specific media question.

Manage the time

It is important to have a clock in front of you, showing the exact time. This allows you to manage it, leaving enough at the end for final remarks

Under embargo

If you embargo the press briefing or discussion, technicians can edit out any glitches before posting online.

Here is the video that we posted without the need for any internal edits.

Constraints of social distancing

All of this was done at a time when Switzerland is in semi lockdown mode. There are different measures in different Cantons. But in Geneva most people are working remotely and those who come in from nearby France have to have the correct documentation.

We followed the social distancing rules for Geneva, so that we had only 5 people at any one time on set. Thomas Cueni and myself were seated at least 2 metres apart and so were the studio director and the support team from Acumen.

I even had a make up lesson (in French) from the make up artist so that we respected the rules. Daniela showed me the products and how to apply them and I tried to copy her. Let’s just say that she was very patient ….

The show must go on

Despite the constraints, the online press briefing worked well. The speakers got their message across and the journalist coverage was excellent with stories from many of the major media outlets such as the Financial Times ,the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and The New York Times.

In the words of the studio director, Patrick Siegenthaler:

“This online briefing showed that if you want to reunite people from all over the world to discuss and share their views on important topics, it is still possible even at a time when few can move.”

And what can be more important than to hear how the pharmaceutical industry is gong to respond to this global health emergency.

Moderating Panel Discussions in a “Pandemic”

Moderating Panel Discussions in a “Pandemic”

The World Health Organisation has not yet declared the new coronavirus to be a pandemic, but to some of us who earn our living from moderating at events or training international teams, we are already suffering the consequences.

Last Friday the Swiss Federal Council announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 1000 people. It looked to be curtains for the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights scheduled for the 6th to the 15th March.

But yesterday the organisers announced their “programme 2.0” in which a smaller number of discussions and interviews would be transmitted live over the Internet allowing the public to ask questions of the speakers.


Proof indeed that webcasting is a potential solution for event organisers as they navigate the uncharted territory of travel bans and cancelled conferences and panel discussions.

Webcasting is just one option as I outline below based on my experience as a radio and video producer, presenter and panel moderator.

Audio or video

Audio, like radio, is much easier and less expensive than video.
You can create a sense of intimacy and connection with the listener if you have a moderator with a well-modulated voice and who is skilled at animating a discussion.

The speakers must also have good radio voices and have clear opinions and points to make.

With video, it is technically more complicated as you will need lights, camera and operators depending on the size of your budget. However, people remember things best when visually presented so video can be more powerful.

Pre-record or live

Live broadcasts get more viewers, as people love the sense that they are in real-time and capturing the moment.

However they come with the risk of technical glitches, challenging audiences and online trolls.

If you have a well-developed social media strategy and significant followers, then broadcasting on Facebook or YouTube live is a good option as it is technically not complicated and relatively inexpensive.

However, you have more control over a pre-recorded audio or video discussion and can also use the material in podcasts, online and on digital platforms to maximise audience engagement.

Whether live or pre-recorded, keep the panel discussion to no more than 30 minutes. Unlike traditional panel discussions, which can be from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15, those that are recorded and watched on line need to be shorter so you manage people’s short attention span.

Logistics and look and feel

Whether you are pre-recording or going live with audio or video, you need to think about the look and feel of the discussion. Do you want people to be seated on sofas like on Breakfast TV or in high backed chairs like at the World Economic Forum in Davos or will everyone be on high chairs news presenter style? It will all depend on the atmosphere you want to create.

Here are some other thoughts:

• Do seat the moderator and speakers so that everyone has eye contact. You don’t
want them to be seated in a line.
• Keep the number of participants to 4 including the moderator.
• Check the sound quality. Tie mikes are best for video and audio, as people often
don’t hold mikes correctly.
• Dress so that tie mikes can be clipped onto a shirt or blouse with no cable
showing.
• Make sure the room or studio is sound proof. If you are recording in an office
space, turn off the air conditioners as they hum.
• Provide make up or at least powder for video as this evens out the skin tone and
under studio lights guests won’t perspire.
• Select a moderator who is used to taking instructions from a director in their
earpiece if you are webcasting. The moderator will need to pass instructions on
to the speakers such as which camera to look into.
• Have an autocue for the moderator’s opening and closing remarks and for the
questions coming in from the public.

2020.02.25 – Studio Smart Cuts
L’équipe de 120 min en studio fond vert.
Photo : Philippe Krauer / Smart Cuts Video & Animation

Use professional production houses

Check out your local video and audio production houses and their studio facilities. They can advise you on what is technically possible in terms of lights, microphones, and cameras as well as how to manage speakers remotely and handle questions from the public.

In Geneva, I have worked with Actua films and La Souris Verte and just outside Lausanne there is Smart Cuts video and animation run by a former BBC colleague.

So event organisers, and moderators, don’t abandon hope in these uncertain times. Think creatively and you will be able to hold panel discussions albeit in a different format.

Storytelling Is An Essential Professional Skill

Storytelling Is An Essential Professional Skill

“I am not really comfortable with storytelling. I don’t see how I can use it in my work”. This is a typical response from senior managers/executives to the idea of attending a storytelling workshop. And what’s more, I understand where they are coming from. As a BBC journalist, I was a professional storyteller – every day looking for the nugget of gold that I could mine to tell a story about something that had changed in the world.

But telling other people’s stories was much easier than telling my own. Journalists don’t like being the centre of the story – it makes them, among other things, feel vulnerable. What I have learned as a trainer, moderator and coach is that storytelling is about sharing experiences – either your own or someone else’s – so that you connect and build rapport, trust and credibility with those around you.

Research shows that our brains are hardwired to listen and to tell stories. Stories are how we think, make meaning of life and explain how things work. They help us make decisions, persuade others, create identities and teach social values.

In a business or organisational setting storytelling helps to sell, educate, inspire and motivate. It is a strategic tool that can bring you closer to your colleagues, clients and peers and transform how you and your organisation are perceived.

How to tell stories

All of the above holds true if the story is well told. It needs to have a clear structure so that it is easy to follow and relevant to the audience. In everyday life, we tell stories to our friends without necessarily drawing a morale or lesson learnt. If you are telling a story in a professional context you must always have a point.

In my workshops, I often tell a personal story about how I lost the equivalent of my annual salary when I first joined the BBC, due to poor advice by a former financial advisor in Geneva. He put me in funds that were far too risky for my investment profile, and which either collapsed or were suspended by the regulator. I explain how I then tried (and am still trying!) to expose his wrongdoing. I tell this story showing that there are different structures that you can use to achieve different impacts, as well as different rhetorical techniques to make it memorable.

It is a story that shows who I am – illustrating my values – trust, perseverance and quest for justice. It is a story that I could use to show people the type of person I am and why they should believe in me or want to work with me.

But it is also a story that can be used to teach a lesson – underlining the importance of assuming responsibility for your finances. I could also tell this story to motivate change by shedding light on what is wrong about the present way Swiss independent financial advisors are regulated and the need for tougher regulation.

Everyone is a storyteller

I hope that none of you have to tell a story like this, but if you are looking for a story, one of the simplest ways is to think about a key moment in your life – positive or negative – and reflect on the lesson learnt.

I also advise people to start to build a library of stories. Think about:

• Moments that made you who you are or who clarified your values
• Moments when you discovered your voice or leadership potential
• Difficult moments in business but worthwhile struggles or extraordinary feats
• Dangerous mistakes in business
• Stories of how your company handled the past
• Stories of how the future could look bright or dark

Start to catalogue stories that might serve as powerful illustrations of your ideas, register other peoples or institutional stories (anecdotes) that could illustrate a point you want to make or think about universal myths and fables that you can use as metaphors and analogies.

We are all storytellers but we are not always aware of it. Have the courage to tell a story and you will see that it can be your most valuable asset and even give you competitive advantage.

PS If you would like to know more about the story of my financial advisor, please email me. My purpose is naturally to warn you against using him!

PPS If you are interested in learning how to become a master storyteller, I run two courses – on public speaking and on storytelling in business.

Please get in touch by email or book a 30-minute discovery call.

Creating a STAR Panel Discussion

Creating a STAR Panel Discussion

In presentation training we refer to STAR moments – something that the audience will always remember. Normally, this is something that is unusual or surprising such as Bill Gates making jokes and opening a jar of mosquitos to infect the audience at his TED talk on the need for more investment in combating malaria.

Unfortunately, STAR moments in panel discussions are far and few between. You may agree with the Guardian writer that most panels are pointless.

Panels take time and skill to organise if they are to be productive, informative and engaging for the audience.

I would therefore like to give my gold star for the best panel discussion of 2019 to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

During Geneva Peace Week they organised a panel on framing peace from a feminist perspective in which peace advocates from Nigeria, South Korea and Lebanon shared their stories of alternative paths to peace.

WILPF_Geneva Peace Week_Flyer_Web

Why does WILPF win the gold STAR?

WILPF had all the ingredients for a compelling panel discussion – editorial and creative flair combined with a dash of strategic thinking. Below is their recipe for success:

Editorial strategy

1. The event linked to one of the overarching themes of Geneva Peace Week – a global perspective on peace building. 
2. It had clear objectives:
• To explain what a feminist peace looks like
• To foster a discussion on alternative paths to peace
• To showcase the work of women advocating and working towards ending conflict
• To redefine security from a feminist perspective.
3. It was designed with the audience in mind – informed, diverse and interested in learning something new and different about peace building.
4. The selection of male and female speakers, from Lebanon, Nigeria and South Korea, and the stories they told perfectly matched the objectives and audience.

Creative flair

The Secretary General of WILPF, Madeline Rees wanted the event not to be “the usual panel discussion” but to go beyond the usual thinking about peace and bring to the surface different analysis, stories, strategies and solutions. This meant it had to be done differently and creatively.

1.The communication team was involved from the start – bringing not only an editorial but design flair.
2.The event was set in “WILPF’s Peace Lounge where the speakers were invited as guests to sit and share their stories with the invited audience.
3.The team created a space where lights and voices helped the participants to think differently and listen deeply. The event started in darkness with the audience shown to their seats by flashlight. For the first 5 minutes they listened to an audio recording – scripted by WILPF -between an actress and producer about how women tried and failed to get an inclusive and just peace after WW1.
4.The moderator made the link with women’s struggle today and as she introduced each speaker they emerged from the darkness and switched on their light.
5.In this intimate atmosphere, the speakers told stories about their commitment to justice, desire to end patriarchy and belief in a feminist peace. (In my next blog I shall review their storytelling best practice).

Preparation and rehearsal

The team organised technical rehearsals checking the set, the props, the lights and sound as if it were a theatre performance.

On the day before the speakers went through a dress rehearsal – practising their stories, timing them and working out the choreography of arriving on stage and activating the lights. As a result the “performance” was slick and professional.

Audience response

As the audience came in and sat down, I heard a few mutterings that the darkness and comfy seats could be an opportunity to take a nap. Far from it! The audience was engaged, prompted by the speaker’s stories to ask personal questions such as, “Anthony how did you become the man you are today?” and “Can I take you home as an example to my teenage son?”

The organisers had to turn away dozens of people. For those lucky enough to get seats, I heard only positive comments such as ” the best event all week” and “that was different and compelling”.

Disclaimer: I helped with the audio script, voiced over one of the roles and rehearsed the speakers, but the concept was all WILPF’s!

An End to “Manels” and “Manferences” – a Moderator’s View

An End to “Manels” and “Manferences” – a Moderator’s View

I vividly remember getting criticised on Twitter for moderating two “manels” – all male panels – during a half-day event at the European Parliament in Brussels some years ago. It would have been a “manference” – a conference where only men speak – if the organisers hadn’t remembered to invite one woman to give a presentation.

The organisation, EU Panel Watch, was right to criticise. I should have refused to moderate the all male panels. Unfortunately, moderators rarely get a say in the selection of speakers. I now advise clients on how to design panels and conferences which are diverse, balanced and engaging – these are the principles I applied when editing BBC radio and TV news programmes.

Still EU Panel Watch’s latest annual report on women’s representation and speaker diversity on policy panels in Brussels shows change is slow and much more effort is required.
In 2018, out of 1583 speakers at conferences the organisation monitored in the “Brussels bubble”, only around one third were women – this held true for panels and keynote speeches. Shockingly, 26% of panels were all men and three quarters of them also had a male moderator. At these rates, EU Panel Watch estimates we can expect to see gender parity in 80 years!

Manels Tweet

The organisation recommends that event organisers take a pledge to never organise an all male panel, and strive for a diverse list of speakers to reflect wider societal views and standpoints.

It’s a pledge that hundreds of diplomatic missions, international organisations and NGOs have taken as part of the Geneva-based International Gender Champions initiative. In their words “50 per cent of the population warrants the same visibility as the other 50 per cent.”

However, event organisers have told me it can be difficult to find women with the right expertise and status – no doubt a consequence of the glass ceiling that women experience in many professions.

At a recent medical conference where I was training moderators, women said all male panels were a systemic problem in their field. They feared this would put off young women from joining the profession and contribute to undermining the credibility of women in science in general. A fear confirmed in an analysis by Nature magazine. The piece documents eight years of medical panels and concludes by pointing out that the situation is improving, yet it is easy to fall back into old habits.

The article also points out that while it is important to invite women to speak, it is more important to listen to them.

The women at the medical conference told me about the gender discrimination happening there. One female colleague witnessed a male co-facilitator trying to muscle in both physically and verbally to take over from the female co-facilitator. In another panel, two male moderators were patronising towards the two female speakers – an observation she said were shared by other women in the sessions.

This unacceptable behaviour only underlines the importance of the moderator ensuring all speakers get equivalent speaking time and challenging those who interrupt or talk over other speakers. Men who dominate the discussion or who are sexist have to be held to account

Change can happen

A few months before Emmanuel Macron became President of France, he was on a panel I was moderating on gender parity. During the discussion, I gave him the card of a women I had met at the conference who was a gender parity expert. His team invited her afterwards to speak at his En Marche political rallies.

The current gender imbalance on panels and at conferences mirrors the gender gap in wider society. That is why UN Gender Champions asks not only for a pledge for panel parity from member organisations, but also for two commitments to move gender equality forward in their institution.