Really effective moderation is so much more then just making things run smoothly (as the dictionary says). Moderation is about interaction, engagement and dynamics. There's a few basic reasons for the moderator to open his mouth and connect to the participants; a few functions that his interventions can have.
Opening the mind
If you want people to take in information, if you want them to learn or change, it is vital that they are open to it. This is where the moderator can play an important part.
Prior to a speaker, a round of workshops, a panel or any other part in the programme, the moderator can help prep the delegates for what's coming next.
There's a large number of options that every professional has in his toolkit. Basically, there's a few categories (and none of them takes a lot of time or budget):
- you can ask the participants a questions, have them chew on it and then ask for responses.
- You can give the participants an assigment, like drawing, building or writing stuff.
- Or you can have them talk: to others, or to themselves (you'll be surprised how powerfull private reflection time is!).
- And so on.
At most meetings, we stuff participants with information and inspiration, without allowing them time to swallow. It's a lot like how gooses are fed to get better foie gras.
Great moderation means: planning timeslots to give people time to reflect on what they've just learned. And using specific workformats to do so. This will help them to consciously decide, what it is they want to remember of this speaker, this workshop, this panel, this day, etc.
There's a number of options, here:
- You can have participants work on a project all day long (individually or groupwise), allowing time for that after each item in the programme.
- Or you can simply allow time to take notes; physically or mentally. And even order them to do so.
- And once again, you can have them talk to each other, in a vast number of formats.
- And so on.
Note: when you plan for a Q&A, also plan for digestion-time. It is simply not fair, to ask participants to come up with briljant questions, just 3 seconds after the speaker is finished!
The next step in effective moderation is to help participants translate what they digested into it's use for day to day reality. After all: meetings are (almost) always in a meeting room, far away from the actual workplace, situation, problem or whatever.
A great moderator will find ways of having people (in their minds) go from the meeting venue to the world outside. This might mean things like:
- Asking people to close their eyes and envision the effect of what they've just learned on their job.
- Telling them to map out the perfect situation as they see it, after this speech.
- Discussing on the spot with other stakeholders, what the perfect picture would look like.
- Or whatever creative option you can think of.
If people don't take action, nothing changed and the meeting has been a waste of time. Moderation can help to get real output, after each part of the programme and at the very end of the day. The trick here is, to actually get participants to take action on the spot. Being satisfied with them promissing to do stuff tomorrow, brings along a great risk of them not keeping this promiss.
One way of doing this, is by having participants form taskforces, make appointments or set processes in motion, even during the meeting (instead of postponing this till after the event, as happens a lot). This doesn't have to be limited to the actual meeting room: getting your participants to make one call, or send one email to start things up is great moderation.
Vital to all elements mentioned so far is that participants still have the energy to do all that. Obviously, the risk of fading energy is low, if you do all of the above, but still ...
Moderation means: keeping an eye on energy and taking action if it's gone. There is ofcourse a number of general energizers, but honestly people are kind of fed up with those. Preferably, there is some sort of connection to the content.
Some options to work with are:
- Change groups, see new faces
- Have people move around: take a short walk before the next digestion timeslot or vote with your body, for instance.
- Change the seating of the room; from cabaret to campfire, for instance. And have the participant move all the tables: they will love it and it will bring so much energy!
- Change the programme: swap speakers. Change a presentation into an interview ... anything to create excitement
- And so on.
Allow people to make a real connections, or have a real conversation and they will love it. The moderator is there to make it happen.
The best meetings I've witnessed, made participants connect in constantly changing formats: one on one, groups of 3-5-10 and plenary. By constantly looking for the best groupsize and (networking) format, you will help reach the objective of the meeting.
And the same goes for connecting the crowd to the speaker: as a moderator, you need to find the right tone and format to make it feel like a one on one conversation. Opening the mind, digesting translating and implementing (as mentioned above) will be better, if you choose alternative formats like:
- Town Hall Meeting
- College Tour
A lot of moderation you see, is just random interaction for the sake of it. Real effective engagement will only happen, if your moderator understands your objective, deeply gets your meeting design and translates that into a well thought of choice of options. That will take the moderation from why to wow!
Jan-Jaap In der Maur
(picture by Evan Dennis on Unsplash)