Are Public Speakers Automatically Good Panel Moderators?


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Panel Moderators

No. Next question.

Okay, seriously, today we’re going to take a look at the thorny question of whether public speakers are automatically good panel moderators. And there’s a reason for us tackling the subject, because we often see conference organizers getting their speakers to moderate panels on the assumption that they’ll do a pretty good job of it.

There are arguments for and against it, but we err on the side of caution, hence our answer at the start of this blog post. But let’s backtrack a little and take a look at both sides of the argument.


Why Public Speakers Are Automatically Good Moderators

1.  They know the subject matter

Assuming that the public speakers are used to talking about the same industry that the panel is going to tackle, you can be pretty sure that they’ll know the subject matter and be able to make astute observations as the discussion progresses. It’s always important to pick a moderator who knows a decent amount about the topic that’s under discussion, and public speakers who are experts in their field can be a handy shortcut.

2.  They’re used to being in front of an audience

Moderating a discussion requires you to have a conversation in front of a roomful of people, and that can be disconcerting for people who aren’t used to it. Public speakers have the advantage of having a ton of experience when it comes to dealing with large numbers of people, and so they may well have the confidence that’s needed to survive the session.

3. They know how to be engaging

Public speakers make it their business to be engaging, and most of them have a whole bunch of tricks up their sleeve that they use to make their talks more memorable. In fact, we’ve talked about a lot of these tips and tricks in our blog posts. Public speakers can often make for good moderators because they’re able to bring a lot of the same skills and techniques to the table to make the panel more engaging.

4.  They can think on their feet

Public speakers tend to be used to answering questions on the fly, in part because most talks end with a question and answer session where the audience is invited to participate. This forces public speakers to think on their feet and to respond quickly to questions, a skill that’s useful when it comes to hosting a panel – especially if the panel goes off on a tangent or a member of the audience asks something unexpected.

5. They’re ready and willing

Another huge advantage of asking a public speaker to moderate one of your panels is that they’re generally ready and willing to do so. From their point of view, it offers them the opportunity to pick up some free publicity and to get in front of an audience, and so they may be willing to do it for free or for a nominal fee.


Why Public Speakers Aren’t Automatically Good Moderators

1. They may try to make it about themselves

One of the biggest risks of getting a public speaker to moderate your panel is that they’re used to their engagements being all about them and the information that they have to share. Good moderators need to be much more passive, facilitating the discussion instead of dominating it. Some public speakers are able to do this well, but others are tempted to jump in with their own observations when their place is to get people talking instead.

2.  Public speaking and moderation are different skills

We’ve touched on this already and it ought to go without saying, but public speaking and moderation are two totally different things. Expecting a public speaker to make a good moderator is like expecting a guitarist to be a good drummer. Some guitarists can play the drums as well, but a heck of a lot of them can’t – and the same is true when it comes to public speakers and whether they’re able to be decent moderators.

3. They can be distracted by other commitments

Public speakers are used to putting a huge amount of effort into their speaking engagements, and they’ll often create their presentation weeks or months in advance and spend a lot of time practicing until they’re able to deliver it flawlessly. The problem with using them as moderators is that they tend to spend all of their preparation time on their talks and to think that they can just “play it by ear” when it comes to chairing a panel.

4. They can feel uncomfortable

Even though public speakers are used to spending a lot of time in the public eye and with a roomful of people looking at them, moderating a panel is a different scenario and it can leave them feeling unsettled and uncomfortable. It’s a little like when you take a singer/songwriter and make them sing karaoke. Sure, they might be used to being on stage, but they’re also used to backing themselves and being able to hide behind their instrument.

5.  There are other people who are better fits

Let’s face it – you can get a public speaker to moderate a panel for you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. There are other people out there who may be able to do a better job, and it can be worth looking up a professional moderator to do the job for you instead.


Now that you’ve seen both sides of the argument, we’d love to hear what you think so that we can keep the discussion going. Do you think that public speakers make for good moderators? Let us know in the comments.

For us, public speakers can be good moderators, but there’s no guarantee there. Sure, there are a few crossover skills that both speakers and moderators have in common, but there are also some skills that are unique to each of them.

And so on reflection, public speakers often are good moderators, but it’s not always the case. That means that if you want to be a decent moderator, you’ll want to practice moderating discussions in the same way that you practice public speaking.

That’s it for this week. Be sure to follow us on your favorite social networking sites for more, and check back often for further updates. We’ll see you soon for another article!


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