Two months ago, I had a preparatory interview with a speaker to hear what his main message would be in the interview I was going to have with him. It was a somewhat laboured phone conversation, I found it hard to get a grip on his point, but after some interrogation, I could see the outline of a thread. After the conversation, I fleshed out the thread a little further so I knew where I could go with him. A week later, I met him on stage and interviewed him in front of the audience. I kept neatly to the thread that I had drawn from him in the preparatory interview and had further developed myself. It was an 'okay' interview, but it wasn’t very engaging.
Being judgmental about the speaker and the content
You’ll notice that the above piece contains the word 'I' too often. That’s not a good sign for a moderator. In an interview, you are supposed to be facilitating the speaker. However, I was judgmental about the speaker and the content and wanted to control the narrative too much. Why did I fall into this trap? I think my sense of responsibility to give the audience a good story got in the way. I overstepped the mark and sat in the seat of the real person in charge, namely the speaker.
A second chance
I was given a second chance! A month later, a new event, and another interview. I must confess that I was nervous, and also less keen, I wasn't looking forward to the potential awkwardness of the interview as it had been last time. The preparatory talk had honestly been a bit the same, except that the speaker said one important thing, ‘I’m just going to go with whatever you ask me’. You can debate whether it's smart as a speaker to go into a talk so unprepared or whether I should have raised this with my client, but for me, as a moderator, it gave me space to go into the interview more freely as well. I came up with an opening question asking about a personal experience, and I decided to mainly listen after that.
What a delightful conversation! The speaker came alive and for the audience, it became a personal and substantive story. An additional benefit was that I had tremendous fun during the interview!
Listening without judgment or a plan
A legitimate and quite a hard lesson for me as a moderator. I can now rely more on the speakers and my listening skills. Speakers are responsible for the content and I can best help them in that by being open, curious and paying full attention to the conversation. Of course, in doing so, I don’t forget the purpose and content of the day, but I am going to try not to judge, lead or plan anymore.
Evert van Rest