The Moderator: Who and Why

Marketing sessions for years have employed a person to function as a protagonist. Unfortunately, in too many instances, this person acts as an antagonist. Historically, this individual, labeled the moderator, adopts a supervisory role in the presentation process. In most cases, for somewhere between five to fifteen minutes, the moderator asks questions of a presenter in hopes of stumbling across some information the audience finds useful. In too many instances the process tends to ramble and become disjointed. The traditional moderating format touches on inquiries about the property, the ownership, and the motivation(s) that may lead to some solutions. The credentials and criteria for the moderator have, for the most part, been based on longevity “in the business.” Thus, those who have “been around” long enough, are presumed qualified. Carrying that philosophy to the extreme is similar to the janitor performing surgery just because for 20 years he swept the operating room floor!

Moderating is an art. Moderators need to be accomplished and prepared with the specific skills. Once the meeting has begun, the moderator is the most important ingredient to a productive marketing session. A grounding in the components that compose a successful marketing session is vital in order for moderators to execute their skills effectively. A knowledge of the importance of structure and the correct attitude are necessary for the task and responsibility of moderating. Without the ingredients, the presenter and audience are left in a state of disarray and confusion. And, all too often the presentation is conducted in an atmosphere of negativism and win/lose.

To avoid this situation it is useful to understand what is a moderator and what role they play. A moderator is a communication facilitator who acts as a catalyst and a conduit between the presenter and the audience. Through the formulation of well-designed questions, arranged in a logical progressive framework, the moderator guides the presenter and the audience to the precipice of possibilities and solutions. The results are verbal and written interaction between presenter and audience.

As a transaction facilitator, the moderator should possess many skills. These skills are listening, eliciting or questioning, process and structure, and managed communication. A moderator is imbued with a positive, non-judgmental attitude. This positive support and reinforcement permeates the meeting and is reflected in the presenter and members of the audience. The moderator must exhibit tolerance and patience with novice presenters as well as the seasoned practitioner. Essential to the positive attitude is the genuine belief that humans are fundamentally good and are to be respected. Taking responsibility for creating a productive marketing environment based on a win/win ethic is an integral part of the proper moderator attitude. In order for everyone to prosper, a moderator is one who understands the synergism and benefit of subscribing to being a team player.

The role of a moderator is that of a transaction merchant and possibility thinker. Effective moderators are capable of clearly and sequentially unraveling the current situation of the presenter’s client by addressing the real estate under consideration and certain significant, relevant facts about the owner. Competent moderators concisely reveal the motivation, desired result, or objective, and stimulate action and marketing activity. They manage and guide the total marketing environment. And, they are proficient in structuring and formatting a presentation to achieve maximum interest and audience participation within a given time frame. In effect, mastery at moderating is a dance created and choreographed by the moderator among the presenter, the audience and the moderator. The outcome is to allow the presenter to be the best possible with whatever information the presenter brought to the session. This results in action-oriented marketing activity.

The goals of a moderator are to: (1) Ask questions that encourage the presenter to remain open and comfortable. (2) Achieve a cooperative reality within which “winning” produces mutually beneficial results. Focused on these goals leaves no room for a win/lose strategy. What is the highest goal for any moderator to achieve? It is a level of performance and attitude that allows the presenter to feel that regardless of any actions or non-actions taken by the audience, and that merely having interfaced with the moderator was worth the time and money spent to attend the marketing session.

Competent, effective and professional moderators commit and dedicate themselves to their art. There is no substitute for quality. It costs all of us!

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