Moderating a Panel: 3 Unconventional Best Practices

January 21, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Meetings, Talent Development

Last week Greg (Turpin’s VP) moderated a panel discussion hosted by the Chicagoland Chapter ASTD (CCASTD).

As I observed, I realized that the discussion was one of the best I’d ever attended. It was good, not only because of the insightful panelists (and they were), but also because of how Greg kept the conversation orderly through the use of some unconventional techniques. Here’s what I mean.

moderating-1-20-14

  1. Direct everyone’s focus. As you can see in the photo, Greg positioned himself in the audience. We were in theatre seating with a center aisle. As you probably have seen in other panel discussions, panelists tend to speak directly to the moderator. Had Greg been up front, the panelists would have had to turn to the side or back to address him. Being out in the audience opened them up to the group. Placing himself in the audience also helped Greg monitor what was going on with the group as a whole.
  2. Make it as conversational and intimate as possible. While there was a raised stage behind them, the panelists were seated at audience level on stools. Having them sit on the same level as the audience, but slightly elevated, made the conversation feel more intimate. Also, the panel took place after dinner. While it took a few minutes to move from the round dinner tables to the theatre seating, the new seating arrangement made it so much easier to listen. No one was forced to twist uncomfortably to face the panelists.
  3. Help us know who’s talking. The panelists’ pictures, name, title and company were projected behind them in the same order they were sitting. This helped the audience remember who everyone was and the angle their answers and comments came from. This was such a simple, practical idea. How many times have you forgotten who individual panelists are after they have been introduced? If you’re like me, every time. Panelists’ bios and pictures were also provided on handouts. I was able to learn more about them, if I wanted, as the discussion went on.

I think the evening’s success was the result of Greg’s taking the time to think about how he could make the panel discussion as easy as possible—from the panelist’s perspective and the audience’s. By breaking the fourth wall of the stage, he was able to bring the discussion to the audience, making all of us feel a part of it.

In the photo left to right:

  • Michelle Reid-Powell, VP of Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness, The CARA Group
  • Aaron Olson, VP and Global Head of Talent Management, Aon Corporation
  • Greg Owen-Boger, VP, Turpin Communication
  • Panelist blocked by Greg:  Tara Hawkins, Training & Development Graduate Program Coordinator, Roosevelt University
  • Toni Fico, Director, Performance Solutions, U.S. Cellular
  • Brittany Horner, Associate Principal, Caveo Learning
by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Training and Presenting in a Virtual World: Turpin Communication’s Top 10 List of Best Practices (a Year in the Making)

December 22, 2010 in Author, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Training, Video, Virtual

greg 200x300As I look back at 2010 I realize that we spent a lot of time presenting and training in a virtual environment. We also produced a lot of training videos for ourselves, partners and clients.

For better or worse, it looks like webinars, video conferences and online training videos aren’t going away any time soon, so we might as well figure out how to present information effectively using them. All year my colleagues and I have been compiling some best practices. Here are 10 of them, 5 for presenting in a webinar format and 5 for using video conferencing.

Presenting Virtually

The biggest issue we see when it comes to presenting virtually is the challenge of keeping listeners engaged. Here are 5 suggestions.

  1. Create Compelling & Relevant Content
    I know this sounds obvious, but engaging participants in a virtual environment starts with your content. Too many times I’ve participated in webinars in which the speakers had nothing new or interesting to say. Participants in virtual events are a very (VERY) distracted bunch; don’t give them another reason to tune you out. Keep your content focused on their wants and needs, connect dots by reinforcing the application and relevance to their lives, and keep things concise.
  2. Do Not Read from a Script
    If people sense that you are scripted they’ll tune out very quickly. Instead, make it feel like a conversation. Each person should feel as if you’re speaking directly to him/her. Our recommendation for doing this is to have a second person in the room with you and speak directly to him/her. They will react, and when they do, you should respond accordingly just like you would in everyday conversation. Using this technique, your intonation will sound natural and interesting to virtual attendees.
  3. Include Multiple Speakers
    I’m more inclined to stay engaged when there is more than one speaker. It’s more interesting to listen to multiple voices with (perhaps) differing points of view. If you can include multiple speakers we recommend it. Just assign who will deliver what prior to going live.
  4. Being Interactive Does Not Equal Being Engaged
    Don’t confuse the “engagement tools” included in the event platform software with human engagement techniques. Using these tools does very little to engage people, but they do a lot to keep people active. So, think of the polling, hand-raising and chat features as “interaction” tools. The creators of these tools recommend using one every few minutes. That advice is silly and unhelpful. Do not use them just for the sake of using them. People are sophisticated and do not endure being hoodwinked for long. Instead (a) use one when it will genuinely help move things forward and (b) do your best to keep things relevant and engage your listeners in the conversation.
  5. Give Them Time
    When you use a poll or some other interaction tool, give participants time to complete the task. I find it irritating when presenters end a poll before I have time to thoughtfully respond. My recommendation is to set up the poll clearly and tell people how much time you’ll give them to respond. “You have 60 seconds to respond.” Then count it down for them. “30 seconds remain… 10 seconds… and the poll is now… closed.” This technique will give you the urgency you want so that people will participate, but still give them an appropriate window of time to complete the task.

There are, of course, other recommendations for conducting virtual sessions, but those are our top five.

Presenting Via Video

Now let’s discuss best practices for presenting using video. We’ve broken it down into two sub-groups: prerecorded video and synchronous video conferencing

Prerecorded Online Video (tutorials, eLearning, sales pitches, etc.)
While not an official part of our top 10 list, our thoughts for effectively recording a presentation on video are worth noting.

Earlier in the year we were contacted by Mike Grosso and David Tyner at KinetiCast. Their service allows sales people to create very quick video-based presentations that help move the sales process forward. They had seen some of our eLearning videos, and asked us to provide them with some how-to videos for their customers. Here’s a link to those how-to presentations using KinetiCast’s system. (You’ll be asked for your name and email. Don’t worry. We don’t sell anyone’s information.) While these how-to videos are focused on using the KinetiCast service (which we recommend by the way), the techniques for engaging viewers through the camera’s lens, being concise & listener-focused, and producing high-quality video on a budget can easily be transferred to other types of talking-head video creation.

Synchronous Video Conferencing
Video conferencing capability has come a long way, and it’s gaining momentum for becoming a standard delivery technique for meetings, presentations and training. Again, my colleagues and I have been compiling some best practices. Here are 5, which round out our Top 10 list for the year.

  1. Understand Lag and Synch Issues
    It’s important to understand that there may be some lag and that the video and audio may be out of synch. This causes people to unintentionally interrupt and trip over each other. Our recommendation is to be patient with others, and pause before speaking to ensure that the previous speaker was finished. This means that the conversations will be slower paced than face-to-face, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When communicating via one-way radio, it’s common practice to say “over” when you’re done speaking. Perhaps you can implement an equivalent process? This may be particularly useful when there are more than two locations dialing in.
  2. Assign One Person to be the Moderator
    The moderator can be the host or someone else, but make it clear at the beginning of the video conference that this person is in charge. When the discussion gets going and people start tripping over each other, this person should step in and moderate.
  3. Pay Particular Attention to Your Eye Contact
    You should look into the camera’s lens when speaking, not at the person’s eyes as they are projected on the screen or monitor. When you look into the lens, the people you’re speaking to will feel as if you’re looking directly at them. If you look at their projection, you’ll appear as if you’re looking off into space as you speak. This is difficult to do, but once you master it this technique won’t feel so awkward.
  4. Adjust Your Lights
    To the degree possible, adjust lights in your room so that your face can be seen on video. In general you want more light in front of you shining on your face and less light behind you.
  5. Don’t Yell
    I’m not sure why people do this, but they tend to raise their voices when on a video conference. Speak in your normal tone and in the general direction of the microphone. Check in with people, especially at the beginning, to set or correct your volume level.

So there you have it: a year’s worth of best practices for presenting and training in a virtual world. Have thoughts of your own? We’d love to hear them.

From all of us at Turpin Communication, have a wonderful New Year.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication