I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to Moderate a fair number of Literary Panels in the past 3-4 years. Currently, I am in Delhi moderating several sessions on behalf of the European Union at the World Book Fair. While the event is still ongoing, and I have sessions that remain, I thought I’d share whatever little I’ve come to realize about the ‘art of moderating’.
So particularly to the uninitiated who are interested in this kind of thing, the first thing is get the ‘fear’ out of your system. Writers/Authors are human beings just like us. They want to engage at a real and human level, just like we ordinary mortals do. So to go into something on the assumption that the people are going to be ‘difficult’, ‘stuck-up’, ‘intellectually highbrowed’, in most cases, is a myth. So relax, and take a deep breath.
Second, be well researched and prepared. Again this does not mean you must have read every word ever written by each author on a panel. But you must have more than a general sense and background about the person and his/her work. Genre, sphere, readership, country of origin; things of this nature. And part of the preparation also is to try and solicit as much detailed information about the ‘subject’ and ‘theme’ of the discussion itself, as much in advance as possible, from the organizers.
Third, try to meet the panelists in advance, strike a rapport. Going in completely cold, unless one is a natural peoples’ person, leads to awkwardness which on stage is a dead giveaway.
And finally, and to my mind most importantly, be Moderate! It is kind of like an interview really. And many people who interview, tend to be either too verbose, or not engaged at all. One has to find a middle ground, strike a balance, ask relevant questions and then allow the panel to respond freely, give them time and space, try not to interrupt. Judge the mood and direction of the audience as well as of the panel, and if need be, divert from your script or whatever you had in your mind in terms of questions. Let the conversation build organically.
Be polite, well informed, well judged, and always ask the audience to acknowledge the panel with applause and gratitude.