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How to Moderate a VIP Panel

February 24, 2010 11 comments

Heather & me (see my listening face?)

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.

Fiona Bryan live-blogged the panel here if you want to check it out.

[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

Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson (who my god I love so much it makes my eyeballs hurt) posted not once but twice

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