You just found out you're going to moderate a conference program or webcast. Congratulations. Now what? What exactly are you going to do? If what you do is emulate what you've seen most moderators do at library conferences, both physical and virtual, chances are you'll politely ask attendees to take their seats before you start reading off the presenters' names and their canned biographical statements. Then you'll sit down and disappear for the rest of the program.
If that doesn't sound very exciting or productive, it's the unfortunate outcome of programs planned with little thought to what a moderator can and should bring to a library program of any type.
Instead, let me describe a role that moderators can play that will add value to any program. Taking the role of moderator seriously means being proactive about working with the speakers to design a well-thought-out program with a singular goal: delivering an outstanding program experience to the audience.
Getting things off to a good start
Instead of thinking of the moderator as a librarian randomly assigned to a panel or program, consider it an important design decision to integrate the moderator into the program as an equal, if not more important, participant.
Severaly ears ago I organized a debate between two teams arguing for and against "good enough" research. It was a huge success primarily because we chose a moderator who was the focal point of the program, commenting wisely after each team made its points, becoming one of the audience in order to compel attendees to line up to make their voices heard, and ultimately whipping up the crowd into a frenzy before they voted on the debate winner. Every moderator can decide whether he or she will simply be an awkward appendage to the main event or become an integral part of the proceedings. I argue that the latter option is attendee-centered program design.
Setting the stage
When asked to serve as a moderator in any capacity, and before making a commitment, the first task is to ask questions and determine what the program organizer expects. If the only expectation is to read names and biographies off a sheet, you need to decide if that's all you wish to do. Be courageous and suggest that the moderator should take a more active role in the program. Assuming that the planners and participants agree, you should immediately agree to take responsibility for managing the program. Here are some of the primary responsibilities the moderator should agree to accept:
* Develop a timeline for preparation leading up to the program
* Create a script or timeline that gives structure to the presentation
* Bring presenters together for program planning
* Identify strategies to engage the audience
* Keep the speakers on time and the attendees involved
* Orchestrate the program with flexibility
* Wrap up the proceedings with authority
Designing the program
When attendees experience a great program, it's usually the result of intentional design. Most panelists will embrace a moderator who takes the reins and leads the presentation planning effort. A savvy moderator has a knack for planning the program, but avoids one so tightly scheduled that it offers no room for spontaneity or deviation from the plan. The moderator should set the tone early by establishing a timetable for preparing for the big day, and then taking responsibility for organizing the meetings, preparing agendas, and then leading the meetings. The panelists or presenters are the content experts; they bring the material and generate the discussion. It's the moderator who makes sure all presenters get their moment to shine, but more important creates the setting for those attending to play a major role in any program.
As the conference approaches, the moderator should plan a series of virtual meetings at which the participants will design the program. …