The less I said, the better my panel went …

I moderated a panel session yesterday at the excellent Top CEO Forum, at the Westin Hotel in Dubai.

I mean the forum was excellent, rather than my moderation. That judgment must surely be up to the audience and the organisers to judge.

For my own part, I felt I did a reasonably good job. I’ve been a moderator on many panel discussions in my time, and still get that dryness in the throat and wobbly stomach in the few minutes before marching on to the podium. If I didn’t, something would be wrong.

Seasoned stage actors report a similar phenomenon. Even if it is their 1,000th performance of a Broadway play, they still report symptoms of stage fright in the run-up to actually treading the boards.

If they didn’t, their performance would suffer, they say.

But these days there is a trend towards a greater technical input in moderating.

You must not only be able to control and direct the panel debate, but also be au fait with the technology that goes with it.

Virtually all public speaking platforms now have some kind of digital audience feedback built into the process.

Each member of the audience has a touch pad on which they’re asked to record their impressions of the session as it is in progress.

For example, in one of the sessions at the Westin (not mine) the audience was asked for a “yes” or “no” response to the question: Is Iran a threat?

As soon as voting opened the “no” response kept to 100 per cent, but it was slowly whittled back to a bare majority by the end. It was all quite exciting really, and I can clearly see the benefit from the point of view of audience participation.

You could use it quite cruelly, if you were so inclined. For example, you could vote on each panel member’s performance in real time.

It would be disconcerting indeed for the poor soul, delivering his wisest opinions or finest bon mots, to see a live response that showed the audience thought he was talking rubbish.

There was no danger of that happening to any of the panel members in my session, who were an erudite and voluble crowd discussing one of the hot issues of the day – economic diversification in the GCC. But in fact they were so expert and knowledgeable that there seemed little for the moderator (me) to do.

Just ask a question and sit back to await the perfectly formed answer.

In theory, the job of a moderator should be to act as the impartial arbiter in an exchange of partisan information, to sift through the gems of wisdom and lead the audience to some form of consensus.

My panel was so well-judged and cautious that I felt largely redundant. Maybe they should rename the job “facilitator”?

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Frank Kane

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