We drive up to the country house Friday afternoon in the midst of yet another late-winter snow storm. Mother Nature has dumped about 18 inches on New Jersey but when you’re married to a Russian, this is not an obstacle. Our road hasn’t even been plowed thanks to a downed power line, but no big deal. The Russian powers through in the SUV and charges ahead towards a nearly-deserted NY State Thruway, lecturing me loudly about sissy Americans and our fear of snow.
In Russia we have snow every fricking day, okeh? And no food in the stores. My pop and me, we was walking thirty minutes each way to market and when we get there? Is nothing. No meat, maybe just potato, maybe sunflower seeds. Sometimes not meat there. We take the bucket, we fill with potato, we pull back home on children’s — what is this, sleigh? No? Sled. We pull home on sled. But here! Ooooooo, it’s snowing. Oooooo, better run to grocery store. In Russia, what is snow? You have to just go! You just go to survive! I got the huge, made-of-wool veil, you put on your head and wrap around your body because it is so cold. JUST TO GET THE POTATO.
It’s like this pretty much all the way to Kingston.
We finally arrive at the house and even the Russian has to admit — this is serious snow. About four feet, judging from the tips of fence I see poking up through the sea of white that is our backyard.
You know what else? It glows blue.
We jab holes in the snow to see how deep it is and an unearthly blue light glows back. It’s eerie and lovely, a light created by some weird alchemy as light particles bounce from ice crystal to ice crystal — smarter people than me explain it here, it only happens in icebergs or when snow is very clean and very deep. It’s as beautiful and mysterious as I imagine the aurora borealis to be. We ski the next day and see blue everywhere, emanating from the tracks made by skiiers who’ve left ghostly trails in the ungroomed snow beneath the lifts.
I had a ball at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston last week. The highlight? Moderating a VIP panel – or perhaps I should say VIB (Very Important Blogger) – and living to tell the tale. Did I mention Heather (aka Dooce) Armstrong was one of those panelists? More on that in a minute.
Here’s how it went down. I had submitted a panel idea to the conference organizers about “Bloggers, Brands and the New Publishing Paradigm.” The topic sprang from a post I wrote last year about how marketers and PR people need to rethink how they approach bloggers; it got nice response and you can read it here. I was jazzed when the idea was accepted and designated the closing keynote panel. I figured I’d be one of the panelist and that was great.
Several weeks later I got a note from Laura Mayes (one of the Mom 2.0 organizers and a thoroughly spectacular human being) that I’m actually going to be the moderator and the other panelists will be announced shortly. I’m excited and just a teeny bit anxious because good moderating takes some prep and I now need to work this into my hot mess of a schedule.
Another couple of days goes by and then I see this In Laura’s Twitter stream:
Zoink. I’m moderating three of the most popular bloggers known to man including Heather Armstrong who (for those of you who don’t know) is arguably one of the most famous (and often controversial) bloggers in the galaxy?
My moderator prep anxiety has now gone defcon level 5. And here’s where I must make a confession. I’m a pretty cool cucumber when it comes to professional stuff but you know who gives me the willies? Male CEOs and Very Important Lady Bloggers. Don’t ask me to explain, it’s complicated and for all I know rooted in Freudian issues. Suffice it to say I was nervous about reaching out to Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle to get the ball rolling on panel prep.
But I did and in my neurotic hyper-organized way — as if preparing an important client for a presentation — start hurling emails into the ether with suggestions about discussion topics and Q & A and conference calls…want to guess how well that went?
Right. Not terribly.
Very Important Lady Bloggers are important for a reason. They are busy. They are focused on their blogs (which are their businesses) and their families. With three weeks to go before the conference my anal-retentive discussion guides were not yet a priority in their minds.
Well, they were MY priority and there’s the problem. I was not reading my audience. I was prepping on my terms, not theirs. Which leads me to the most important advice I can offer to anyone preparing to moderate a VIP panel:
It’s not about you. It’s about them.
I don’t care how fancy-pants you are, if you’re moderating a big-deal panel you will be eclipsed. As it should be. You are not the headliner, you are the facilitator who if you’re smart will make the headliners look great.
Cutting to the chase, I will tell you the panel went off really well. It all came together perfectly (if not a little last-minute.) Heather, Maggie and Gabrielle were lovely, created content that made the presentation visual and dynamic, and generally rocked the dais.
Moderating a panel of this stature is kind of like being a jockey – or maybe a rodeo rider is a better analogy (we were in Texas, after all). You climb onboard that filly and do your best to stay on. You listen, you listen some more, you roll with the punches and adjust the questions based on the flow of the discussion. You take the mike only to ask the next question or to clarify a point.
You are not the show. Did I mention already that it’s about them, not you?
I’ve been in the audience for panels where the moderator hogged the spotlight. I’ve been on the panel when the moderator ceded control of the discussion to unruly audiences. My goal was to make sure neither of those things happened and based on the crowd reaction, I think we just may have accomplished it.
[Image via Sarah Hubbell]
UPDATE: More great posts about Mom 2.0 from women a) I want to be when I grow up except that I’m older than all of them; b) should come to my house for a slumber party so I can braid their hair and c) I am inspired by constantly…
Gabrielle “Design Mom” Blair (from the aforementioned panel) here
Maggie “Mighty Girl” Mason (also from aforementioned panel) here
Liz “Mom 101″ Gumbiner here
How come when I’m asked to post at someone else’s blog the words flow freely from my fingers? It’s kind of like how I don’t mind doing the Thanksgiving dishes when it’s someone else’s house. Everyday tasks are more enjoyable when I’m doing them on someone else’s turf.
The Mouthy Housewives hang out on pretty awesome turf. Their advice site is hilarious and smart and kind of like having your best (funniest) girlfriend sitting on your shoulder 24/7 whispering encouragement and wisdom in your ear. I first encountered Wendi and Kelcey, two of the four Mouthy Housewives, at the BlogHer Humor panel last year. I was struck dumb by their brilliance, or maybe by the sauna-like heat in the panel room. I’m not sure which. It’s a quick hop and a skip from Wendi and Kelcey to Marinka who not only is wicked funny but is Russian. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a soft spot for Russians. Though Russian women scare the s*** out of me so maybe Marinka was sent my way to help me sort through my issues. As for Heather, I have not yet connected with her personally but she quotes Nietzche and Jung on her home page. And says bad words. Which makes her a well-read badass, so naturally I want to be her best friend.
You can imagine my delight The Mouthy Housewives invited me to guest advise because while I am not a housewife I am seriously mouthy. And I have been known to wear curlers though mine are velcro not foam because I’m quite modern that way. Here’s the post. I enjoyed doing it though I’m still afraid of lady bloggers who quote Nietzche, Russian women and people who appear on fancy BlogHer panels. I think the Housewives owe it to me to let me hang out with them more so I can sort out these issues, don’t you?