Web Conference Moderators

    February 26, 2007

Most people who work on creating webinars for their company break down responsibilities into two main areas. One function is carried out behind the scenes, setting up the technical side of the event, promoting it, managing registration, and so on. The other side of the coin is the “on air talent”, as the TV industry would put it. This refers to the person or people delivering the material during the event.

But there is another important function that is often overlooked. This role provides assistance to the presenter and to the audience during the live webcast. Often referred to as an event moderator, the term may be a little misleading, as it conjures up images of someone asking questions to a group of panelists. Admittedly, a moderator may well keep things rolling during a Q&A session, but there is much more to the function.

A good webinar moderator starts working even before the event goes live to the audience, helping the speakers get comfortable and making sure that preparation is complete for a smooth event. He or she makes sure that all presenters are logged in with working audio and runs a checklist of reminders for the little details that contribute to web seminar success. This includes making sure that everyone has backup printouts of the presentation materials, that they have liquid available to combat dry mouth, and that all noise distractions are turned off. A cheerful and confident attitude from a moderator running an organized prep session helps to calm jittery nerves in some speakers as well.

The moderator may choose to give standby messages to early participants on the line. When the event starts, the moderator can welcome the audience and instruct them on how to use their web conferencing console. He or she can give a formal introduction to the first presenter, making the transition sound smooth and professional.

While the presenter is speaking, moderators take care of several other functions. They watch for technical problems or questions typed in from the audience, answering standard queries such as whether slides or a recording will be made available later.

If the presentation includes interactive features such as polls or typed-in feedback, the moderator can remind the audience how to work with the software and can fill the silence that sometimes creeps in while the presenter waits for audience responses. This gives the speakers time to catch their breath and take a sip of water.

Moderators should be on a separate computer network from the presenters so that in the event of a speaker’s computer or network failing, the moderator can continue to advance slides and presentation materials while the speaker reads from his or her hardcopy backup.

A professional moderator also monitors the event for small problems that can be fixed with a quick comment. One example is a polite request to the current speaker to get closer to the microphone for better sound quality. If the web conferencing software allows private chat with other presenters, the moderator can communicate with speakers without the audience’s knowledge. The moderator can also keep an eye on the overall session time if Q&A seems to be extending too long and suggest when the last question should be taken. A moderator should close out the event with a clear message to the participants that they can close their conferencing console and hang up the phone.

A good moderator has a complete understanding of the web conferencing software being used. He or she is comfortable working with the interactive features of the software and explaining them to the audience. Moderators need experience in working with live events and must have the ability to deal with problem situations in a calm and professional manner. They should have introductory and closing scripts worked out and approved by the speakers. A clear, confident speaking voice is essential, as the moderator often sets the tone for the entire event and is the first and last voice the audience hears.

The functions performed by the event moderator may be assigned to several individuals if desired, but it is doubly important in these situations to have technical rehearsals with everyone involved so that responsibilities and handoffs are clearly understood. Many companies use a combination of their own webinar administrator, an event producer from the webinar technology vendor, and an operator from the telephone conferencing company.

Over many years of producing and delivering web conferences, I have been disappointed far too often with the quality of voice work I get from the random operators assigned to cover the moderator’s communications functions. The people may be part of a telephone conferencing service or production staff from a web conferencing technology company. I have more memories than I can count of listening to people reading stilted scripts in a bored tone, or tripping over the name of the conference, the presenting company, or the lead-off speaker. Poor diction is amazingly common.

My advice for ensuring the most professional sounding presentation you can deliver is to get a copy of all introduction scripts ahead of time. There may be one from your web conferencing provider and one from the telephone operator. Check them for accuracy and don’t be afraid to cut out extraneous information or change the wording to sound more natural. Have a pre-call ahead of your event start time and listen carefully to the people assigned to read your scripts. If you feel you can do a better job, simply tell them that you’ll deliver the introductory comments. It’s your event… Control it for success.

Obviously, as a web conference services provider, I also like the option of hiring an experienced professional to manage event moderating functions. A company like Webinar Success gives you the ability to work with a named individual who is explicitly assigned to your event and knows the ins and outs of working with the conferencing software, supporting your speakers and audience, and providing a professional tone from start to end.

But whomever you use, make sure you don’t overlook the importance of a quality event moderator.


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