Esther Nelson, Speaker Agent and Summit Co-ordinator
Running an event, whether large or small, virtual or physical, can be very stressful. Below are some of the lessons I learned from running The Recovery Summit, a virtual event we held in June 2020, looking at the role the moderators played.
April 2020 was a difficult month. In the UK we were in lockdown. The events industry had temporarily closed down along with most other businesses.
As a speakers bureau, we have access to many of the world’s top minds in economics, leadership, innovation and anyone who can help a business turn around and become successful.
Following the success of a small virtual event we held in April we decided to plan and run another one in June, to give hope to business people and help them to adapt and adjust to the new environment they would face once lockdown was over.
The premise was simple: 50 speakers over 5 days. We started bringing the idea to some of our speakers and soon reached 50 people. Then it was 60. More got in touch with topics they’d prepared for just this subject. The number rose to around 70 speakers. It was time to find some moderators to ensure the summit went smoothly.
We planned the old-fashioned way, with post-its on a board. Each post-it represents a speaker at The Recovery Summit.
The moderators we worked with at The Recovery Summit were all professionals who had worked as presenters and interviewers for the BBC, Sky or Bloomsberg and had experience in hosting and moderating large events. We needed this level of experience at our event to match the high level of speakers we had recruited – Nobel Laureates, business award-winners and gold-medal sports winners. Of course, we were also showcasing the speakers so the audience would bear them in mind for better times so it was appropriate for us to use these moderators to keep the standard high.
I soon found, however, that they not only gave that feeling of confidence and control on the screen, but they also contributed immensely at the planning stage too.
At our first planning meeting, the team of moderators asked questions I hadn’t considered about contingencies, timings and what they needed as a brief to make sure their sessions ran well. While this wasn’t their goal, they gave me more of a structure to work against to ensure that all of the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. Not only this, one or two of them continued to work with me throughout the planning stage, calling me to check in on how things were going and effectively coaching me with their experience of how things could best be done.
Their contributions helped me to make sure the speakers were more prepared for their sessions by involving them in the preparation for interviews and q&a sessions. The moderators also did extra homework in order to prepare openers to each session that went beyond the standard introduction of the speaker and ensured a smooth transition from one session to the next.
They worked hard to ensure that their part of the summit went well – far beyond what I expected from them but the results were outstanding.
The lesson from this planning stage: never underestimate the value of a host and moderator who can contribute from their experience. Bring them into your plans as soon as possible. They are natural organisers who want to make sure everything is right, and will happily work with you to get to the point where everyone is comfortable with what is going to happen.
The benefits of knowing someone like this is in your corner from the early stages are huge and a great stress-reliever.
The moderators went above and beyond the call of duty. This event was their event and they wanted it to go well.
As an event organiser, you plan the best you can and to the outside world, you act like everything is fine. Realistically, running a 5-day online summit with 70 speakers from our lockdown homes made for a very stressful week!
Through it all, however, there was one constant: the moderators had it all under control.
Here are some of the things we did over the week to ensure we worked together as a team with the moderators:
- Set up a Whatsapp group for the moderators so we could share the highs and lows and swap tips for future sessions. This proved to be an excellent idea: instead of making them login to Vimeo to see the questions members of the audience posed to speakers we simply sent them over Whatsapp for the moderator to ask. It made it a much easier experience for them.
- Set up a detailed run-sheet (but don’t make it too detailed!). We set up a huge run-sheet for all the speakers, including who was moderating when, and which links they needed to click to get to the webinar platform. In some cases, we went a bit too far with the detail and this made it difficult for the moderators to know where they were supposed to be, but because we’d built up a relationship with them beforehand this wasn’t too much of an issue – they simply asked over Whatsapp for clarification.
- Prior to the event kept the moderators informed and built up a relationship with them. This really helped when it came to the event: we were able to have a laugh if things went awry, and I was able to adapt a bit to each person because I knew their ways a bit more than if we’d gone in cold.
- Had a practice run on the platform beforehand so the moderators could help with the speaker if need be. We did this, then had to swap to a different platform because the audience numbers got too great. Regardless, the moderators were fine with the alternative and felt confident to help with any speaker issues because we’d talked through what they might need to help with. (With the many online conferences now you can rest assured that your moderator will not have a problem with the tech. Of all presenters, they are most used to being on screen!
In conclusion, the moderators really added that final polish to The Recovery Summit. Our speakers were fantastic but they needed those professionals introducing them, jumping in when they called for q&a (even when it wasn’t expected!), helping when the speaker thought they’d lost internet but actually hadn’t (!) and generally taking all panic out of any time when it might have ensued.
They carried on with an amazingly calm exterior and for some of them, the timing was extremely tight between sessions but no-one would know they’d just been on a session where the questions were coming thick and fast and they needed to wrap up 5 minutes ago!
As an event planner, would I recommend a moderator? Absolutely – the first thing you need to do is put aside a budget for a moderator at your event. The moderator will make sure the audience is comfortable, the speaker is happy and your event will go smoothly. You cannot do without one.