Have you ever helped organize a conference? There are quite a few jobs that need to get done, including handing out badges, creating the program, promoting the event, speaking … and moderating conference sessions.
I’ve been asked to moderate sessions at a number of conferences over the last couple of years. It’s fun, and sometimes a bit challenging! If you’ve never done it before, or wondered what’s needed to be a moderator … don’t worry – I’ve got you covered!
Here are some tips on moderating at conferences and events:
- Email speakers in advance. Ask your speakers to double-check their bios or supply one. Tell them to email you with questions if they have any.
- Get there early. You’ll want to make sure the room is ready, the mics are on, and the projector is working.
- Set the mood for the day. At the start of the first session, tell attendees what’s going on in your room for the day, especially if you are moderating a whole track of sessions based on a theme (i.e., a web developer’s track). That helps people know what to expect for the day. There might also be some last minute changes that you need to share.
- Introduce yourself to the sound dude. Most event centers and hotels have staff who set up and run the audio for each session. Sometimes they hang out in the room the whole time; more often than not, they are busily running to each room, making sure everyone’s ok. That person can make or break the event. So introduce yourself as the moderator and find out how to contact them if you need anything.
- Know how to use the mic. Know how to turn it on, how to attach it if it’s a lavalier mic, etc. Check out my article on good mic technique for some more tips.
- Test the equipment. Make sure the speaker is comfortable with the tech they are using. If they are switching between slides and a video, make sure they practice that. Test the audio levels of the video. Remind people how to advance slides. Yes, that sounds silly … but when an inexperienced speaker is standing in front of 200 people, they can get flustered pretty easily and forget those simple things.
- Paraphrase the bio. Especially if it’s long. No one really wants to hear you read 600 words about the speaker. Give just enough to introduce the speaker, then get to the talk.
- Time the sessions. At a busy conference with lots of sessions, you have to keep a tight schedule. I set two alarms on my iPhone – one goes off when there’s 5 minutes left, and one when time’s up.
- Multiple speakers need equal time. If there are two or more speakers during a session, make sure to give them equal amounts of time to speak. tell each presenter how much time they have, and then stick to it. It’s never fun to have your 15-minute presentation turned into a rushed 6-minute mess (been there, done that).
- If it’s a panel discussion, include everyone. When moderating a panel, make sure everyone on the panel has a chance to speak. If someone’s not talking, it’s your job to draw them into the conversation. On the other hand, if someone is talking too much, it’s your job to give other panelists a chance to speak. An easy way to do that is to say something like “Thanks for that idea. What do the other panelists think?” And turn to someone else to give them a chance to speak.
- Repeat the question. During the Q & A time at the end, make sure to either repeat the question that was asked, or have the speaker do it. If the room is large, some people won’t hear the question, and sometimes the session is being recorded. It also helps make sure you get the question right.
- Move people along. This goes with timing the sessions. You might need to cut off a long-winded speaker, or end the Q & A, to move people along to the next session. Sometime during the Q & A, I usually walk to to the podium and stand by the speaker. I’ll help find people with questions. When it’s about time to end the session, I’ll say something like “we have time for one more question.” After that question is answered, I’ll make sure to thank the speaker, and tell people what’s coming next (i.e., lunch break, next session in 15 minutes, etc).
If you have never done any moderating … what are you waiting for? Try it out and see if you like it!
Pic by r00s