Do you have the impression that your audience is following your moderation? Can you build tension with short stories and anecdotes so that the group listens to you with enthusiasm? How do you as a presenter manage to provide special added value? And what can you do while moderating workshops or debates, leading a project group meeting or a panel discussion? If you moderate events in science/research, business and the public or at their interfaces, you can do some things wrong, but a lot right.


What you prepare as a moderator

Your task is to organize a meeting, to achieve a specific goal and to document the results. If it is not a television or talk show moderation, you will have other challenging tasks besides these.

You will be challenged to orient the group you lead and to assign tasks to suit the various people. You make sure that introverts can bring in their expertise as well as the loudspeakers among the participants. On top of that, you promote the group discussion with constructive interventions and ask specific questions that promote work progress. By doing so, you promote the focused work of the group towards a specific goal.

Does this sound to you as if you are a moderator and a juggler in one? Do you keep many balls in the air at the same time? You are right: As a moderator you need both communication and leadership skills. If you can include interesting stories and anecdotes in your moderation, then your chances of being heard are good.


This is how you create added value

Whether you moderate or present: Personal stories reveal emotions and increase the attention of your participants. This allows you to create real-life images with a story that fits the theme.

In her German book “Die Gastgeber-Methode”, TV presenter and journalist Nicole Krieger describes the positive effects of stories: They stimulate attention and arouse emotions in the audience, give life to numbers, data and facts and help to communicate complex information in an understandable way. Krieger emphasizes that new, previously unknown stories are particularly interesting for the participants. All the better if you can tell them personally and vividly what people have experienced. Always ask yourself how close you are to the reality of the people you communicate with.

If you are preparing your moderation, it will help you to answer the following questions:

  • What is the aim of the event?
  • What people are coming to the event and what is their personal and professional background?
  • Which expectations of the participants can you count on?
  • What is the topic and what content do you pick up?
  • What is your individual goal while moderating?

In case the event begins with a round of introductions, you can actively involve the participants if you offer some beginnings of sentences to choose from, instead of the routine presentation with name, profession and expectations:

“I am…at…and am currently responsible…”

“Something important to me today…”

“A topic that interests me particularly today…”

“Crucial for the success of the event…”

In this way, each individual can reflect once again on his or her personal motivation and goals.

If you then succeed in tuning in to the topic with a short lead, you are guaranteed the attention of the participants. Instead of reading every single item on the agenda, it is better to give a rough overview. A good approach is if you do not address more than three aspects in the lead story.

From practice: If, for example, the topic “Smart machines and human intelligence” is to be discussed, you could moderate something like this:

“An exciting program awaits us. Right at the beginning we discuss whether there will be a lasting difference between artificial and human intelligence. We also want to discuss whether smart machines will support us, outstrip us, or make us redundant. And we will examine the question of whether artificial and human intelligence will one day merge into each other.”


Moderating a workshop

As a moderator, you are the discussion leader and lead the group towards a common goal or desired result at the same time. As in all moderations, it is important to use time effectively. Together with the participants, you determine the main and sub-topics of the workshop. You will often divide the participants into individual working groups, whom you will later bring together again. At the same time, you will steer the conversation and make sure that all participants are involved. Otherwise you motivate them to take an active part and represent their respective interests.

So that you can better understand the dynamics within the group, you can deal with some personality and relationship aspects in advance:

  • Do the participants know each other? What relationships do they have with each other?
  • What expertise, experience and decision-making authority do they have within the group?
  • What are their interests and expectations?

The participants themselves are responsible for developing the content of the workshop. New thoughts and ideas can of course be rewarded, for example by nodding your head. By asking targeted questions or by occasionally interspersing provocative theses, you stimulate an exchange of opinions if the group becomes less active or does not make decisive progress on the topic. Group exercises that you introduce promote interactive exchange. For example, a World Café with a size of 12 or more participants can help to shed light on different perspectives on similar questions. But whether World Café, BarCamp, Fishbowl or any other approach: The workshop alone is not the method! Ultimately, the aim is always to achieve a mutually agreed goal.

Your workshop will gain even more structure if you document important contents and results on a flipchart or whiteboard and thus make them visible to everyone. A “flashlight” or conclusion helps the participants to recognize what they have already achieved in the workshop. In this way you keep the group up to date and at the same time promote their motivation to adhere to the topic. At the end of the workshop, a feedback session helps to record the added value the participants take away from the workshop.


Debate and panel discussion

The debate corresponds to a controversial discussion in which invited experts deal with specific issues. In the panel discussion, they sit on an elevated panel, clearly visible. Here your audience can later participate with their own questions. You act accordingly flexible to the event.

With a warm welcome from the experts you will create a pleasant atmosphere – ideally you will introduce the experts to each other before the start of the event. You should clarify any questions in advance, emphasize the relevance of the debate topic, and give hints on the course of the discussion.

According to Nicole Krieger, you can make the panel discussion a success by considering the following aspects in advance:

  • Are there any opponents? If so, do not place them next to each other, but rather opposite each other.
  • Quarrelsome and talkative guests sit next to you.
  • You always sit in the middle of the discussion.
  • You determine the duration of the discussion in advance.
  • Is there someone who informs you about the remaining time?
  • Do you provide organizational hints for the end of the event?

Always be able to answer your questions – so that you have an answer ready for all questions.

With an open introductory question you enable the experts to contribute their personal experiences. As an attentive moderator, you will be able to read between the lines by paying attention to their voice coloring and body language and going into it in the appropriate place. You pick up on interesting content, work out controversies, and thus ensure a flexible discussion without losing the common thread.

The discussion becomes more structured if you work out an interview guide in advance. If the experts deviate from the topic during the discussion, you counter this with appropriate questions. Cleverly posed questions provide new insights and insights on the part of the experts. You can also summarize individual topic areas in a few words and, after an accentuated break, touch on a new debate topic.

Your essential task is to treat the experts equally and always at eye level. In a pro-and-contra debate, you do not take sides. Nevertheless, you can encourage them up with provocative remarks in places, without interpreting and evaluating the statements in the podium.

If a panel discussion follows, you can approach your audience directly and pick up their questions. Ideally, you will be supported by assistants equipped with microphones who will pass them on to individual people in the audience. You assign general questions to the appropriate experts in the podium.


Project group meeting

The project group meeting requires a completely different approach from the previous formats. It is important that you collect and structure all relevant information in advance. In addition to working on a topic that has been defined in advance, the focus here is on the targeted conclusion and agreement of follow-up activities.

As a moderator, you work out a guideline that you can use to orient yourself during the session. As in the workshop, it is a good idea not to use tiring standard phrases such as “Please introduce yourself briefly…” or “What do you expect from today’s session?” Targeted introductory questions promote a dynamic introduction and encourage the participants to make personal statements:

  • “What happened since we last met…”
  • “What I’d like to tell the group/host…”
  • “Imagine, it’s 5:00 p.m., we’ve closed our session. What happened so that you could say, “That was a really good event!”?”
  • “What can and do you want to contribute to the overall success of the event yourself? What do you wish from other participants, the speakers, the moderator?”

In the course of the session, you will specifically gather the expertise of the individual participants, pay attention to a balanced participation and lead to a consensus.


What can cause moderations to fail?

Moderations can also fail. The most frequent reason for this is insufficient preparation. It starts with missing information about the location, time or topic of the event and does not end with important people not being invited in the first place. If an agenda or even a content concept is still missing, people tend to discuss without any structure – without any recognizable goal. The leitmotif is missing.

If this happens, there can be no productively elaborated results. But even if the goal has been clearly communicated, it might be difficult to motivate the participants to agreed follow-up activities. In order that this does not happen to you, you record the results, document them and distribute them to all participants. If there is no feedback from the participants in workshops and project group meetings, then criticism will not be expressed openly. In this way, the moderator misses the opportunity to take up possible suggestions for improvement and to incorporate them profitably into subsequent events.

One final tip: Please avoid the following phrases when moderating an event:

  • “Further information on this topic can be found on the Internet at the following address…”
  • “Last but not least…”
  • “It remains to hope…”
  • “At the end of the day, all that matters…”
  • “Now put your hand on your heart…”
  • “Be honest with me…”
  • “It remains to be seen how this issue develops.”

It is much better to use positive and challenging formulations that encourage the participants to spontaneously express their opinion, as they did at the opening:

  • “What I take with me…”
  • “What surprised me / inspired me / brought me further…”
  • “What irritated / disturbed / bored me…”
  • “What I will do differently / better in the future…”
  • “What I would like to say…”

I wish you a lot of success with your next moderation!

This post is also available in: German