Moderating a conference about the possible reclassification of a chemical compound as carcinogenic is no laughing matter. The revaluation of antimony, a substance found in many household and manufacturing products, would have severe repercussions for those involved in its trade and manufacture.
However, as you can see from the photos, we did raise a few laughs during the day. How? We made the conference as interactive as possible – quizzes, panel discussions, group brainstorming and feedback sessions. As a former TV and radio producer, I know that you have to keep on changing the pace and content of a programme to keep the audience engaged.
But our secret ingredient was to use a cartoonist to make everyone laugh. Floris Oudshoorn is a gem. A Dutch cartoonist, who is fluent in English, he recapped the main points with some of his very witty digital sketches.
Photos courtesy of ComicHouse
The trick was to know when to bring Floris into the discussion. I had seen cartoonists work as a speaker presents, but this is often distracting as our eyes are always drawn to the visual. I had also worked with a graphic facilitator, who showed her work at the end of the event.
This time though, Floris was an integral part of the day. He sat unobtrusively in the room, beavering away on his computer as the discussion unfolded. At certain pre-agreed moments, I would give him the floor to show us what he had been up to. His skill was not only to synthesise and visualise technical discussions but to make us chuckle.
A picture is worth a thousand words so I rarely had to ask him to explain his ideas. They were self-explanatory.
At the end of the day, he even drew a cartoon as we watched to see what emerged on the screen. Have a look at this short video I made of him at work.
Floris must have created at least 30 cartoons during the day – many of which the organisers of the conference – the International Antimony Association – posted on their website. I am sure they will reuse them at every opportunity.
So if you are organising a conference even on a serious technical subject, think out of the box or in this case onto the screen and see if including a cartoonist may make your event even more memorable.
A straw poll of colleagues and clients confirmed my view that people often confuse the different roles.
I frequently receive confused requests. Not so long ago, I was asked to moderate when in fact after some discussion the client and I agreed they needed instead a Master of Ceremonies. Another client contacted me to moderate, but in fact what they required was a Master of Ceremonies and facilitator.
When organizing an event, how do you make sure you get the right person for the right job?
Some broad definitions to keep in mind:
- A moderator guides the discussion, often but not always in a panel format.
- A Master of Ceremonies is responsible for the “show* – the whole event as it unrolls on the day.
- A facilitator is responsible for a process – helping people make decisions and achieve results.
While there are differences in responsibilities, there is a common base of skills across the three roles: you need someone who is neutral, is a good listener, and is a clear and confident communicator.
The nuance is that the different roles require more of one skill over another. By understanding this difference, you can be sure that you have hired the right person for the right job. .
From my experience, here are the prerequisites.
The ideal Moderator:
- Knowledgeable – knows enough about the key issues to guide the conversation and ask the thoughtful questions. They are not subject experts, but they know how to research the arguments and draw out the main points.
- Probing – is confident about asking thought-provoking questions to ensure a stimulating and lively discussion.
- Engaged and engaging – is constantly thinking about the audience needs, making sure the conversation is meaningful for them and prepared to inject humour when need be.
- Outcome orientated – works with the organiser to ask the questions they want asked to get the results they want.
Top Tip: TV and radio journalists are naturally good at this as they are used to distilling complex information and asking questions in a linear and easily understandable way. Make sure though they realise they are working for you and no longer for their editors!
The ideal Master of Ceremonies:
- Personable – knows how to build rapport with the audience so that they are engaged throughout the event. If the audience doesn’t like the personality of the MC, the success of the event will be compromised.
- Energetic and enthusiastic – works the room so that the audience is engaged, entertained, and energized.
- Quick-witted – picks up quickly on verbal cues and link seamlessly from one session to another.
- Charismatic – has confidence, presence and impact.
Top Tip: You need to get the right personality for your audience. If you are organising a big event you may want an actor/celebrity/broadcast presenter. But be careful that it does not become all about them!
The ideal Facilitator:
- Well prepared – works out a process and structure for the event to achieve a specific result.
- Analytical – identifies clear goals and links group feedback to them.
- Empathetic – listens well and support others when they lose focus
- Perceptive – links the response of the participants to the process and knows when to lift energy levels.
Top Tip: You need to look for facilitators who have a background in training and leadership development.
If you are organising an event, then do work closely with your “ideal” moderator, MC and facilitator, bringing them in as early as possible in the process to advise on content and format. This will make sure that you can the outcome you want.
If you are interested in this blog, have a read of other blogs on moderating.
Taking the Stress out of Moderating
How to be the Perfect Panelist
Creating a Perfect Panel
Moderating with Macron
Emmanuel Macron, the French presidential hopeful, was getting ready to take the stage, and all I knew as panel moderator was that he was meant to sit in the chair second to the left.
He and I were taking part in the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society in Deauville. I had no idea what he would say on our panel discussion about the economic advancement of women. His PR team were nowhere to be found.
So when the makeup artist whispered to her colleague that she was about to go upstairs to do his make-up, I followed her into the inner sanctum.
I needed to know if he was willing to speak in English – a red line for some French politicians – or whether he would be speaking through an interpreter. I wanted to briefly introduce myself and the first topic for discussion – the gender pay gap between men and women. From experience, I know it is important to build rapport with high-level panelists, and to sense if they get my British humour.
He did – peering over my clipboard and asking what questions I would be posing – in perfect English.
Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister for Women, Emmanuel Macron, French Presidential Candidate, Claire Doole, Moderator.
He was a master communicator. He understood the audience and did not dominate. He accepted graciously the business card I gave him from the founder of a feminist group I had met the previous night. She had calculated that at the current rate of progress women in France would be paid the same as men in 2186!
He even understood my humour as I asked him if he was or had ever been a feminist.
It was a sound bite that worked for him too as it went viral on Twitter.
All of this with no preparation from his PR team. The communications teams for the other panelists – Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women, and Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre – had been very helpful with background information.
If you are going to successfully moderate high level panels, you do need to prepare. You have to do your homework as an advanced briefing from PR teams does not always happen. However, if you do meet with panelists’ PR teams be wary, they might try to stifle debate! The day before meeting Macron, I moderated a panel with the CEO of Coca Cola, Muhtar Kent, on why he was a feminist.
Interviewing the CEO Coca Cola Muhtar Kent about why he says he is a feminist.
Mr Kent’s PR team were much more controlling – keen to know my questions and those of the other two women who were on the panel. I gave them broad areas.
With hindsight, I can understand why they asked. He resigned as CEO 7 days later after what the Wall Street Journal called “a rocky eight-year run at the top”.
During that time, he had doubled the number of women on the Board of Directors from two to four, but parried my question on when there would be gender parity on the 14-member board with the word – “soon”.
He saw the event as a win-win to explain how Coca-Cola was empowering women in the countries where it operates. He even managed some product placement much to my chagrin, a photo reproduced in Forbes and Grazia magazines.
Hot on the heels of these panels in Deauville, I was asked, at one of the moderating workshops I run, for my 5 top tips on handling high -level panels.
Here they are:
• Be prepared, but ready to go with the flow
• Build rapport even if you only have a couple of minutes beforehand
• Listen intently and ask follow-up questions
• Ask the questions the audience wants asked
• Don’t be swayed by the PR team!
Interested in watching the whole debate? Here is the panel with Emmanuel Macron, Patty Hajdu and Arancha Gonzalez on the economic advancement of women.
And if you would like to find out why the CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent says he is a feminist, click on this link.