Photo by lizzardo

Photo by lizzardo

Do you need to give a conference presentation online? Don’t panic — you’ll find some tips about how to give an engaging presentation online in my last blog post. Make sure you read the comments too, there is some good advice in there!

But what about if you need to moderate a webinar or conference presentation? In other words, you don’t need to give a talk, you need to manage the session and handle the audience.  Here are some of the things that an online event moderator typically has to do:

  • welcome the audience
  • set the agenda for the event
  • outline any protocols (e.g. don’t draw on the PowerPoint slides unless invited to do so!)
  • introduce the speaker
  • give permissions to speakers and participants to use certain tools such as the shared whiteboard, or the microphone
  • keep track of any questions that may appear in the chat window during the talk
  • moderate a question-and-answer session when the speaker has finished his or her presentation
  • sum up, thank the speaker and audience, and close the session.

The online event moderator will typically do these things more or less in the order above. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? On the whole it is, although there are a few things for the moderator to keep in mind. Here are a few tips!

Tips for online event moderators:

Tip 1: Tech check!

Well before the online event, check that the speaker knows how to use the videoconferencing software effectively. Check whether she needs to use tools such as the shared whiteboard, or will be using shared web browsing during her talk. Run at least one test session in a few days before the event to check that her microphone and web cam settings are working. Do this even if the speaker swears she knows the video conferencing software like the back of her hand! Double check that the speaker will be using the same computer on the day of the event itself. Many an online event has lost half of the audience because the speaker’s microphone and camera settings were not checked in advance, and far too long is spent at the beginning of the talk faffing around trying to get things to work! Unnecessary technical faffing is one of the quickest ways to lose your audience. Quite apart from the fact that it makes the entire event looks very unprofessional.

Tip 2: Name dropping

Check how the speaker would like to be introduced. What would the speaker like you to say about him or her? Should your intro include only professional information, or perhaps you could mention a hobby or two? Will you put a photo or two of the speakers on the whiteboard  during your intro? And are you sure you know how to pronounce the speaker’s name correctly? Iclearly remember being introduced once as Niggly Hogly instead of Nicky Hockly…

Tip 3: Who’s who & what’s what

At exactly what point during the webinar or conference session will you (the moderator) be speaking? What is your role? Let the audience know at the beginning of the online event how it is going to be structured, and what you are there for.

What sort of protocols do you want your audience to follow? Will they be given permissions to draw on the whiteboard, for example? Can they use the chat window? Be aware that if you have a chat window open during the session (highly recommended), the session participants will use it to — well, chat. And if the speaker does not keep them engaged, they will start chatting among themselves about the weather, their interests and general stuff… and just tune the speaker out. Not necessarily a bad thing, and a good online speaker will know how to use the text chat window to ensure audience participation (see my previous blog post for some tips on this!).

Tip 4: Permissions

If the speaker is going to invite participants to draw on the shared whiteboard, or to comment using the microphone, you the moderator will need to think carefully about when and how you are going to handle permissions. Microphone permissions are usually very straightforward to grant – a participant will signal that he or she wants the microphone, and as moderator you simply give permission to that individual.

Giving permissions to use drawing tools on the shared whiteboard is also straightforward, but think carefully about when you are going to give permissions. Will you give everybody drawing permissions from the beginning of the session? In that case you risk participants doodling on the PowerPoint slides during the talk (would’t be a first)! Will you give everyone drawing permissions only when the speaker invites them to draw on the whiteboard? In that case you will need to be quick in giving each individual the necessary permissions — with a large audience this might be quite time consuming, and those that you give permissions to first will have finished the task before you have given everybody permissions. … So check in advance with the speaker how long their whiteboard task(s) are going to take. This may help you decide exactly when to give drawing permissions.

Tip 5: Q&A

If there is going to be a question and answer (Q&A) session at the end of the speaker’s talk, how are you going to run that? How will the audience submit questions? Via the text chat window, or will you give the microphone to individuals to ask questions? Or will you use a combination of text chat window and mic? Be aware that while participants are adding questions to a chat window, it is extremely difficult to scroll back up to read what people have contributed earlier! The text in a chat window is constantly refreshed, which moves previous text up the screen, making it almost impossible to scroll up and hold a section of text still to read it.

During the Q&A, it’s a good idea for the moderator to simply watch the chat window, and quickly scribble down questions (and the name of the person who asked the question) on a piece of paper. These questions can then be relayed orally by the moderator to the speaker in the order in which they were asked. In fact, during the talk itself, the moderator should keep a close eye on the chat window, and note down topics or issues which participants bring up while the speaker is talking. It’s very difficult for a speaker to be fully aware of questions coming in via a text chat window while he or she is speaking. Nobody is that good a multi-tasker. It’s the moderator’s job to keep an eye on the text chat window.

Tip 6: Goodbyes

How are you going to summarise or round up the session? Will you do a short roundup activity, for example in the text chat window? Or will you simply thank the speaker and audience? If the speaker is going to include a roundup activity (see my previous blog post for some activities suggestions) — and you’ll need to check – then you could simply say a few lines summarising the talk and what you find interesting/useful. Remember to tell participants where they can access the PowerPoint slides and the session recording after the event.

These are some basic tips for online event moderators. I’d love to hear from anyone else who has had experience of moderating an online synchronous event. Can you add any tips (or warnings) for us in the Comments to this post?


Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
November 2009