The Art of Moderating a Panel in the Partial Attention Economy

by Larry Chiang on December 11, 2009

Larry Chiang uses conferences to sell people on new ideas. Last month, Harvard Business School’s, Harbus, featured him in a cover story, What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School“. If you liked 9 Things They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School, Cut and Paste Other People’s Work and How to Close a Deal Via Voicemail, you’ll love this post: “The Art of Moderating a Panel in the Partial Attention Economy”.

How To Hack into Moderating a SXSW Panel. The SXSW selection process opened June 1st. Submit yours.

By Larry Chiang

News flash: people now text message during movies. Text messaging is everywhere all the time.  If you are moderating a panel that isn’t as exciting as Star Trek, then you have a problem in the partial attention economy.

The idea is that moderators should leverage people’s innate tendency to multi-task with their smartie pants iPhones, Sidekick LX and lap-tops with WIFI. The new generation of moderators drives audience members to multi-task for their own benefit.

Here are seven ideas currently not taught in b-school.

-1- Audience… engage.

I have an obnoxious goal to get 20 questions in a one hour panel when I moderate. It pretty much makes my audience fully engaged.

If you do the math, it is one question every third minute. It makes my session a one hour thrill ride. You don’t text people or check email on a roller coaster thrill ride do you?! Heck no. Well, you also can’t multi-task when you are multi-tasking because you…

-2- Let Twitter Hijack Your Audience’s Attention

Twitter answers the question, “what are you doing right now” in under 140 characters. I encourage people to text message questions, thoughts and opinions into twitter or my PDA. I use an iPhone but prefer my Sidekick.

If they’re using Twitter, I channel the “tweets” using a hashtag “#”. For example, at SXSW, an audience member would ask, “what forms of VC financing work best in Kansas? #vcSecrets #sxsw”

#vcSecrets is the panel
#sxsw is the conference in Austin TX
#LCSecrets is the panel on leads and branding
#leadsCon is the NYC conference and #LeadsConBrand is my panel Aug 18

Search “#vcSecrets” and you’ll see good stuff about venture capital secrets

-3- Get a co-Moderator.

Co-Moderators are like Hollywood co-stars. They make the star shine brighter.

The co-moderator has one easy job and one hard job. Easy job: They press reload to refresh the search on www.search.twitter.com. This refreshes the twitter stream for all to see on the projected screen. The hard job: co-moderator must read the tweets and inbound text messages and interrupt the moderator when good points arise from the audience.

I use the co-moderator three ways…
A) a break from interrogating the panelists,
B) audience knowledge activation, and
C) documenting the event in real-time.

-4- Managing and Motivating the Panelists.

The panel is your treasure that you showcase to your audience. Squeeze the best out of them. Read more here but I keep this in mind: 2/3rd panel, 1/3 audience. Let your panel shine by interrogating and complimenting… Yes, I’m sour and sweet just like my favorite Chinese dish King Pao Duck. Yeah I just made that up.


What They Don’t Teach at Stanford Business School should have a guest blog post by Divinia Knowles. Other SXSW attendees are HERE

-5- Wonder Twins power activate.

Have you ever watched Justice League America?! There are two twins that when they touch fists, take the form of cool stuff. Panels that are well moderated touch and retouch the audience CONSTANTLY.

-6- Get a Waitlist of Questions.

Normally, the panel drones on and on. And the audience when prompted for a question has a pregnant pause for about a minute or five. Painful. Yes. Necessary?! No.

My method is I take the co-moderators questions and reiterate them. For example, I will say, “Oh great question from the Twitter screen. Is @wtdtyasbsMovie in the room?” They’ll proudly stand and I’ll break the ice of the first question asker.

I love the waitlist and text messaging. Yes, I even “Close a Deal Via Text Message”.

-7- Platform Skills Aren’t Just for Keynotes.

Platform skills is professional speaking 101. In short its walking around and physiologically delivering your message on stage. This also applies to moderating a panel because we wanna be the bridge between expert panelists and the multi-tasking audience. We bridge by making the entire audience floor our speaking ‘platform’.

First step, use a lavolier wireless mic so you can walk around. Motion creates emotion. Ever watch a JT concert. He works the entire stadium almost as well as Lou Seal. They don’t call it the sit-on-you-ass moderator method…, they call it platform moderation skill.

Work the Rear of the Room.

Pro speakers use the back of the room as a springboard. Me, I learn from those pros. Here is one trick I learned from NSA member, Jeff Slutsky who wrote ‘how to Get Clients’. Not to be mixed with Brian Slutsky who runs ThinkTank Marketing in Phoenix. He (Jeff) says hi to people walking in at the back of the room. He doesn’t even say he’s speaking or moderating. When he goes on, the audience’s energy explodes.

Let people crash your panel.

I take all of that audience involvement and sometimes let someone “crash” my panel. If an audience member says or asks something that makes people cheer, I promote them… I literaly promote them to to panelist. Yes, I even make an impromtu name badge.

Stay tuned. I am taking you behind the scenes when I cover (and crash) Sundance. I’ll cover the four mistakes of actors turned directors and maybe host a Sundance after party.

If you liked this, you may also check:

Larry is writing a sequel to a book he did not write. It comes out 09-09-09. It is called ‘What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School‘.


Larry’s book releases 09-09-09

This post was cranked out in about an hour so email me if you see a spelling or grammatical error(s)… larry@larrychiang com

Larry Chiang is the founder of Deep Underground Credit Knowledge 9 (Duck9). He hacked Fair Isaac’s FICO credit algorithm and battles lies told by the credit industry such as Fair Isaac’s claim that the average FICO is 720. The real average is 535.

Text or call him during office hours 11:11am or 11:11pm PST +/-11 minutes at 650-283-8008. If you email him, be sure to include your cell number in the subject line.

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