The sense of smell, as I realised while preparing to moderate the Global Fragrance Summit last month, is one of the most powerful of the senses. It not only evokes memories and shapes emotion but also lowers stress. However, it is also one of the most under-appreciated.

Preparing to moderate this event, as well as many recent engagements made me reflect that there is another sense that is also powerful but underused – the editorial sense.

It is a sense that is particularly useful when designing an event and vital when briefing a professional moderator. A professional moderator brings many skills to the table from stage/screen presence to an ability to engage with the audience and keep an event to time.

But if you want a professional panel moderator to steer the discussion, bring out insights from the speakers and to ensure the success of your event, you need to give them an in-depth editorial briefing as they are not subject experts.

Briefing a professional panel moderator

Before you have a briefing call with the panel moderator, send them a briefing document to read beforehand so they can ask informed questions. Often, all I am given is the draft agenda which has the title of the panel and sometimes if online a couple of explanatory lines.

Furthermore, the title is often too broad and lacks focus, such as the triple planetary crisis or the just energy transition. It should ideally include a question such as how do we ensure that the energy transition is fair and equitable for the rural poor?

A well-structured briefing document should include:

Event purpose: Why are we holding this event? What do we want to achieve?
Panel discussion objective: Define the objective of the panel discussion. Is it to share best practices, introduce new tools and techniques, find solutions to a pressing problem, build relationships, or hear different perspectives on a common challenge.
Topic, premise and title: Identify a topic that is top of mind for the audience, for example Artificial intelligence and a premise – a proposition or assertion such as AI the unintended consequences. Then you have to find an intriguing title – AI – the case for a global system of governance or who should regulate AI?
Key discussion questions: Clearly outline the key questions the panel will address.
Speaker overview: Identify speakers, explain why they were selected and outline their views on the theme.
Narrative structure: Define the planned and organised flow of the conversation that the panelists will have during the event. As detailed in a previous blog, the narrative structure involves creating a coherent and engaging flow of topics that guides the discussion from the beginning to the end. This structure is designed to ensure that the panel covers key points, addresses the main objectives of the discussion, and maintains the interest of the audience.
Content of keynote speeches: Clarify what keynote speakers or presenters will cover before the panel discussion. This is important so that the panel doesn’t repeat what has already been said but builds on it.

Role of guiding questions

Guiding questions for each speaker are always useful. However, these should not be written, as is often the case, in policy or corporate speak, as the moderator has to make them their own. Keep in mind that the panel is a conversation, not a lecture.

Similarly, these questions are often written as If the moderator will ask a series of questions to one speaker before moving on to the next speaker. This is not a panel discussion but an interview. The moderator’s responsibility is to structure the discussion so it has editorial coherence bringing in the right speaker at the right time.

And keep in mind that once you have drafted the briefing document and shared with the moderator, the next step is to facilitate communication between the professional moderator and speakers. Their editorial sense will come into play, constructing a dynamic panel discussion that aligns with objectives and captivates the audience with both insight and entertainment.

If you would like to book Claire to moderate at your event, learn how to moderate yourself, or hone your public speaking, speechwriting, storytelling or media interview skills, contact me here or link in with me!