The standard conference format, is an instructional, well-prepared, well-organized and compellingly presented educational event. Instructional faculty has in-depth knowledge of their subjects and a willingness to share their perspectives as well as their data. They are usually the developers, published authors, hands-on practitioners, industry analysts or senior executives working in their subject areas.
The most successful instructional speakers organize their presentations into lists, e.g. “The Five Cs of ASP Marketing,” “The Seven Keys to Effective Applications,” “Guidelines to Choosing the Optimal Application Server,” and so on. They also prepare good web-based courseware and handouts, focus on practical issues and day-to-day concerns, and develop strong rapport with their audiences. The best speakers have some background in teaching, corporate training or public speaking. They do not present commercial pitches for themselves or their companies’ products. (They are never asked back if they do.)
Roundtables and Panels
Done right, Roundtables and Panels can help illuminate a complex issue by presenting alternative perspectives on what individuals and companies have done. Successful panels are chaired by careful moderators who prepare their panelists ahead of time with the session’s scope, ground rules and a list of relevant questions. During the discussion, moderators present fair overviews of the key issues for the audience, keep the speakers on track and on time, translate jargon and acronyms and spark discussion among competing points of view. Web-based courseware with references to the key issues and the contact sites of the panelists round out the session.
In a ROUNDTABLE format, the moderator introduces the topic with three minutes or so of overview and scene-setting information. The moderator briefly introduces each panelist and puts each in perspective relative to the session topic. Each panelist gives a short five to seven minute background presentation that develops the panelist’s point of view. The moderator poses questions, generates arguments, involves the audience and tells the story through the interaction of all participants. In the final two or three minutes, the moderator summarizes the discussion, points out the key points of agreement and contention, identifies resources for further study and ends the session on time.
In a PRESENTATION PANEL format, the moderator introduces each speaker and puts each talk in perspective. Each speaker gives a 15 or 20 minute prepared presentation. The moderator asks questions and elicits responses from the audience.
Great ROUNDTABLES are run by well-prepared moderators who tease out the drama of the topic, building the story piece by piece and throwing spotlights on the key issues. Great PRESENTATION PANELS download lots of information in a short time and depend on the moderator to put each talk into perspective.
The Moderator’s Role
As the audience’s surrogate, the moderator asks the clarifying questions of speakers who mumble and use too many obscure references and slaps down the presenters who try to do commercial spiels. When it works well, everybody on the stage looks good and the audience leaves feeling smarter than when they came in. Six weeks before the show, the moderator should:
- Contact each panelist with a brief overview and a list of possible questions. (There should always be a few surprises.)
- Chat by phone or in the Speakers Lounge (on-site) with each panelist to find the points of agreement and contention.
- Sketch out the story line and help the panelists fit their components into the big picture.
A debate should always take place between two or more evenly matched opponents whose knowledge; experience and public presentation skills are all top-notch. Debates need a strong moderator who polices the fairness and accuracy of information, keeps time and brings the audience into the discussion. Web-based courseware with references to the key issues, links to relevant newsgroups and the contact sites of the debaters keep the issues alive after the final bell.