The Art of Speaking  

Moderate a panel like a pro

The art of moderating

YouTube /Wade Paterson

If you have ever been asked to moderate a panel, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s a huge honour.

You were likely chosen because you are an effective listener and have a knack for asking great questions.

The best way to describe a panelist moderator is sort of like the quarterback of a panel discussion. He orshe is responsible for the flow of the session, making sure the panelists are given equal opportunity to share important information, while ensuring the audience gets as much value from the conversation as possible.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of moderating several panel discussions and with this column (and accompanying video), I share my top tips for moderating like a pro.

Pick an interesting topic and choose great panelists

Sometimes you are told the topic of the session you will be moderating and who your panelists will be. But, if you have the opportunity to pick either or both, take your time and choose wisely.

With regard to the subject, imagine you are an attendee at the conference or event where this panel session will be taking place. What is a subject, title and description that would be irresistible to you as a member of the audience? The topic and description of your panel discussion should hook the crowd’s attention before they’ve even stepped in the room.

If you get to choose your panelists, the first requirement is to pick individuals who are knowledgeable and have expertise on the subject. Try to pick panelists who have differing—not necessarily opposing—points of view. There’s nothing worse than attending a panel discussion where panelist A gives an answer, and then panelist B repeats the exact same thing. The whole point of a panel is to give a diverse range of opinions.
In my experience, the ideal number of panelists is two or three.

Set up a pre-interview call with panelists

The best panel moderators often set up a pre-interview call, either virtually or in-person, before the day of the live event. There are two reasons this is beneficial. First, if the panelists have not yet met, this will give them the chance to be introduced and become comfortable with each other prior to stepping on stage. The more relaxed your panelists are on the day of the event, the better.

Second, it will give you as the moderator a chance to go over housekeeping items with your panelists and give them an idea of some of the types of questions they’ll be asked and the structure of the conversation. This will further add to your guests’ comfort, as they’ll feel prepared going into the panel session.

Do your research and give panelists a nice introduction

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an interviewer or a moderator starts the session by asking: “So, can each of you tell us a bit about yourselves?” In my opinion, that is the job of the moderator. Do some basic research on your guests and have a sentence or two that tells your audience about their expertise, and also gives them a glimpse into who each of the panelists are and why they’re qualified to be there.

Keep the introductions brief, though. You want to maximize speaking time for your panelists.

Balance speaking time

One of the trickier aspects of moderating a panel is ensuring there is somewhat of a balance in speaking time. Most experienced panelists will usually be mindful of how long they’re talking, but this isn’t always the case.

If you find panelist A continues to give long-winded answers, while panelist B responds with only a few words, be prepared to ask follow-up questions to panelist B to allow him or her to expand on the answer. On the flip side, if panelist A is going on for far too long, find a strategic pause to jump and gently interrupt with something like: “There’s a ton of a great information there, Bob (panelist A), and I’m sorry to cut you short, but I would love to hear Susie’s (panelist B) take on that as well.”

Use minimal notes, and listen carefully for follow-up questions

Going into the panel, it’s a good idea to have some notes to remind you of the questions you have prepared, but try not to be staring at your notes too often.

If the stage has side tables beside the chairs, you can set your piece of paper there and have key words written down, which will remind you what questions you were hoping to ask. You can also consider using cue cards, which are a bit more subtle if you’re holding them in your hand.

Moderators who don’t rely too heavily on notes are often better listeners, and it’s an incredible skill if you’re able to listen carefully then ask a clever follow-up question following one of your panelist’s answers.

Keep it on time

Most events and conferences have a pretty tight agenda, so one of your most important jobs as a moderator is to ensure the session stays on time. Be mindful of the start and end time, and if your panel begins way later than anticipated, try to ask the event organizer if it’s OK for you to run the session for the originally-planned duration. If so, great. If not, adapt and choose which questions you’ll cut out to maximize value for your audience.
Involve the audience

If your panel discussion is long enough, it might be nice to throw in an opportunity for an audience question and answer session. If that’s the case, in a large room (with adequate audio-visual equipment), you may want to ask a couple of volunteers to be “mic runners” and bring an extra microphone to anyone in the room who has a question.That will allow the entire audience to hear what is being asked.

In a smaller venue, listen to the audience question and then repeat it so your panelists have a moment to think and so all the entire audience can properly understand what is being asked of the panelists.

Wrap it up with a bow

Toward the end of the session, it’s always nice to give the panelists an opportunity to share any important information that may not have been discussed during the session. Saying something like, “We’ve covered a lot of ground today, but is there a final thought or piece of advice you’d like to share with the audience?” is a good way to phrase that.

Ensure you end the session by asking the audience to give a round of applausefor the panelists, and feel free to share information about how the audience can connect with those individuals—whether in-person or virtually—after the session.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The future of public speaking 

Public speaking is changing

YouTube /Wade Paterson

I recently attended a Toastmasters meeting at my local club (Kelowna AM Toastmasters) and I was pleasantly surprised to see a former member walk through the door as a guest.

The individual hadn’t been to one of our meetings in two or three years. After the meeting, I chatted with her and she told me she was blown away by how much the club’s meeting had evolved.

Since COVID, Kelowna AM Toastmasters adapted to become a hybrid club, which makes it possible for members and guests to attend both in-person and online via Zoom. Each week, volunteer club members set up cameras, microphones and other equipment to make this possible.

While this new hybrid environment now feels completely normal to the regular club members, the former member was impressed by the set up. Her comments made me think about what the future of public speaking could look like.

This month, I want to share a few predictions of what speakers should likely expect in the years to come.

Virtual meetings are here to stay

I think most people would agree that virtual meetings will continue to be part of our everyday lives for years to come.

Prior to COVID, many companies hadn’t experimented with Zoom and other virtual meeting software; however, the pandemic forced businesses to adapt and, in doing so, these companies realized the benefits and efficiencies of leveraging virtual meetings.

What does that mean for you as a speaker?

The first thing to keep in mind is your virtual meeting set-up. If you’re participating in Zoom meetings from home, you may want to dedicate a space that has good lighting (especially in front of you, so your face is lit up on camera), a clean background and that isn’t too noisy.

If you have a bit of a budget, you may also want to invest in a decent quality webcam and microphone, as this equipment will help you communicate more effectively.

While on the actual meeting, make sure you virtually make eye contact with your audience by looking directly at the camera lens periodically (and not just staring at the other faces on your screen).

The future will be “hybrid”

Another way the business world adapted during COVID was by making conferences “hybrid,” or essentially giving the option to attend sessions either in-person or virtually.

As a speaker, this might not impact you too much, but if you’re speaking to a live crowd and you know there’s a virtual audience as well, it is a nice touch to acknowledge to virtual audience in some way: whether that’s periodically making eye contact with the camera that feeds to the virtual audience, or potentially by mentioning them or inviting them to type in questions during your speech.

There’s no excuse for a lack of research

We currently have access to unbelievably powerful productivity/research tools, and these tools will only get better with time; therefore, speakers of the future have no excuse for not being prepared for their speeches.

A big part of this preparation process is to know your audience and customize your presentation to suit their needs. As an example, if a speaker is giving a presentation to a room full of realtors, it wouldn’t make sense to talk to them about how to impress their boss to get a promotion (because they are independent contractors and most don’t report to a boss).

In the future, the best speakers will custom-build each presentation to speak the language of each individual audience.

Speeches in the Metaverse?

When Facebook officially changed its company name to Meta, it was a pretty clear indication that virtual reality and the metaverse will likely be a big part of our future.

Recently, Lex Friedman interviewed Mark Zuckerberg on his podcast, and the interview was completely done via a virtual reality headset. While this type of medium isn’t ubiquitous quite yet, Lex’s interview gave us a glimpse of what future meetings could look like.

For us as speakers, it’s important to remember that no matter how much the technology evolves, the same public speaking fundamentals will always apply.

Body language, vocal variety, eye contact, speech structure, elimination of “umms” and “ahhs,” and the injection of humour are key principals of public speaking that are important whether we’re speaking to a live audience or speaking to a simulated avatar in a futuristic setting.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Even public speaking professionals get nervous

Overcoming the nerves

YouTube/Wade Paterson

Do professional speakers get nervous before they take the stage?
“Always,” said keynote speaker Giselle Ugarte. “I usually have a time when I want to wake up, and I tell myself I’m going to wake up. I usually spend about an hour completely frozen in bed.
“I have pacing moments. I question everything I’m about to say. I question if I even deserve to be there at all.”
Giselle’s answer shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Personally, I’ve always gotten nervous before speaking to audiences, but for some reason, I assumed professional paid speakers would eventually move past the anxiety.
My conversation with Giselle was the launching pad for a new YouTube interview series and podcast I’ve released called Keys from Keynotes. I created Keys from Keynotes with the goal of tapping into the knowledge and expertise of some of the world’s greatest public speakers to learn what gives them confidence from the stage.
What I went on to learn from Giselle was she’s able to reframe her mindset to see the nerves as a positive.
“Usually, right before I go on stage, I get extremely calm and I just breathe it in and I’m able to transform the nerves and the imposter syndrome into excitement. I shift that mindset into, ‘I deserve to be here, I’m so excited to be here, it’s an honour to be here,’” said Giselle.
“But to me, the nerves mean I care.”
As Giselle mentioned, some level of stress is not only normal, but actually a good thing. However, for some people, public speaking anxiety can be completely overwhelming.
So is there any way to reduce stress related to public speaking?
While I don’t think the nerves will ever completely go away, I’ve found practice and repetition reduces the fear of taking the stage. When I first started my current job, I learned I would be required to speak at a monthly event that typically hosted 60 attendees. In those early days, I would start worrying about the upcoming speaking event two weeks prior to actually delivering the speech. If you do the math, that was half of my life being lived with anxiety about speaking.
It was at that time I joined Kelowna AM Toastmasters with the goal of reducing my stress associated with public speaking. After about six months, I noticed my anxiety would only start kicking in 48 hours before the speaking event, which meant I was gifted with an additional 12 stress-free days per month.
Whether you’re an aspiring keynote speaker or you’re about to give the first speech of your life, focus on practicing and remember, even the pros get nervous.
The nerves simply show you care.
If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.
If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Busting myths about public speaking

Four public speaking myths

YouTube/Wade Paterson

We’ve all heard various pieces of advice about public speaking, but how many of these tips and tricks are actually myths?

This month, I will debunk four falsehoods about public speaking, and explain why these common beliefs are untrue.

Getting nervous is bad

I’ve focused on improving my public speaking skills for the past decade, and I still get nervous each time I deliver a presentation. I consider that a good thing.

Oddly enough, the few times I haven’t gotten nervous before stepping in front of an audience have typically gone much worse than the times when nerves were present. I recently had a conversation with a public speaker who I admire, and he told me that he gets nervous because he cares.

If you’re able to tweak your mindset to believe nerves are a good thing, it’s going to help give you gain confidence before you step on stage.

As a side note, sometimes there are physical side effects that accompany nerves. Shaky hands, a dry mouth and sweaty palms are all common physical responses to public speaking. After you’ve spoken in front of an audience a few times, you’ll likely identify how your body reacts, and then you can take steps to be prepared for these reactions in the future. (For example: If your mouth gets dry, you can bring water on stage with you. If your hand is shaking, you could avoid carrying a single piece of paper and instead carry something heavier, which will make the shaking seem less obvious.)

You can “wing it”

For some reason we’ve romanticized this idea of getting up in front of an audience with no preparation or practice at all, and delivering an incredible speech.

While it’s true there are some “unicorn” individuals out there who have an ability to wing it, I would argue those people make up less than 5% of the population. I would also argue that everyone (even those who can wing it) would have a better speech if they practiced.

If you think about anyone who has become successful in their line of work, practice is often a common theme. Even the most talented athletes, who have natural abilities, work endlessly on their skills to improve, and we should treat public speaking the same way.

The underwear advice

“Just picture your audience in their underwear.”

I’m not sure where this bad piece of public speaking advice originated from (and ChatGPT wasn’t certain either).

My AI friend suggested it may have come about in the 20th century, along with the rise of self-help and personal development literature that became popular during the 1900s.

Perhaps the idea was introduced to give you psychological power. For example, picturing the audience in a vulnerable situation when you are feeling nervous may somehow restore confidence. But in reality, there are many reasons why this strategy seems like a bad idea.

Beyond the fact it’s creepy, remember you have enough to worry about when you’re standing on stage in front of an audience. Public speakers don’t usually have the capacity to allow their minds to wander and focus on other things. So instead of trying to imagine what your audience might look like in their underwear, you’re much better off to simply practice your speech.

You should write out your full speech

It’s incredibly common for most people to begin the speech planning process by writing out their full speech word-for-word. While it makes sense to write down notes early in the speech planning process, I think you’re better off to plan your speech in general themes rather than writing everything down word-for-word.

When you write out a speech verbatim, it’s tempting to rely heavily on notes when we deliver the speech. The problem with reading words off of a piece of paper is that it usually limits body language and vocal variety.

By planning a speech out in themes or categories, you can use far fewer notes (instead, subtle prompts that will remind you what to say next) and focus on engaging the audience with your body language and vocal variety.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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