Don’t Mess Up Your Event With These Moderation Mistakes

Meeting formats change and get ever more complicated. Moving away from ‘speakers only’ to more interaction and engagement calls for moderation. The more complex the meeting design, the more effort needs to be put into making sure that everything runs smoothly and effectively.

Investing in meeting-moderation doesn’t necessarily mean getting a moderator on stage, though. Moderation and a moderator are two completely different things: a moderator is an individual, moderation is a holistic approach; it’s an attitude.

Awareness about ROI and Meeting Design is growing, day-by-day. That is a good thing, but doesn’t make meetings more effective in themselves. The importance of these two elements to the success of a meeting will be undermined, if meeting owners do not take moderation more seriously.

After all ROI and Meeting Design are only on paper. The actual success is determined by the execution.

That’s why I think of moderation as far more than just the question of if there should be a moderator on stage. It is about something that I read in ‘Into the Heart of Meetings’ (the industry standard on meeting design). Mike van de Vijver and Eric the Groot introduce the concept of ‘facilitation style’. That is the description of the tone-of-voice that everyone involved will use, during every minute of the day. This can be something like ‘relaxed formal’ or ‘trusted criticism’.

Effective moderation is about having everything and everyone add to this facilitation style, in order to make the meeting successful. The most important elements are:

Don’t Mess Up Your Event With These Moderation Mistakes


The room you execute your meeting in, is crucial to the effect on the objective. So, this is the first step in the moderation of the day.

If you want to challenge people, find yourself a venue that challenges the mind. If you want to inspire them, stay clear of the average hotel meeting room. Find something that underlines the message of the meeting, because the general characteristics of the venue are crucial to successful moderation.

If you dig deeper, it is also about the decor of the room, the seating layout and so on. Interaction is not easy to stimulate in a classical theatre style setting, with someone speaking from a high, distant stage. A small group will feel even smaller, if the room is too big. An open view to the world will open up people’s minds, so be sure there are plenty of windows if you want that to happen. And why not bring in art, flowers, animals… whatever it takes to get the participants in the right mood. The Meetology Group did some interesting research on this.



The effect of sound, light, aircon etc. is largely underestimated. Yet examples are easy to think of. How are you supposed to interact, if you can hardly see the other people in the room? Then why so often is there only light on stage leaving the rest of the room in gloom?

How are you supposed to concentrate on the content, when you are even struggling to concentrate on hearing what words are said? How can a panel run smoothly, if the moderator and the four panellists have to share one microphone? All too often sound at venues is poor.

And what about temperature, oxygen, natural light etc. etc? If you sit and listen, temperature should be different from when you are working hard on an assignment in a smaller group. It is so simple!


Eventtech is a rapidly expanding category of moderation: voting systems, group decision systems, apps, you name it. It is considered ‘hot’ to have it. But unless used with careful thought it is just a useless gadget. Eventtech should be deployed with great care. If it doesn’t add value to the moderation of the meeting, forget about it. Event Manager Blog wrote a great ebook on the subject.


From the perspective of moderation, catering is so much more than delegates not being hungry. Food and drink should not only be about ‘good taste’, but also about helping participants perform well.

My little daughter gets a fruit-break at school, in order to allow her to play and learn better. So why are delegates forced to work without any food from 10am – 1pm?! And why do we stuff our participants with so much food over lunch, that they spend the rest of the afternoon digesting? In particular meat is a problem, not from a vegetarian perspective, but because it keeps the mind from learning.

A second element is the way the food is served. In most cases budget (a buffet is cheaper), practicalities (keeping them in a room without a coffee break is easier) or making an impression (pampering people) are the key denominators. But the key denominator should be moderation, and moderation only.

For example: if the buffet is cheaper, but a proper dinner will get you higher ROI, what will you choose? If you combine the coffee break with a small group assignment, you combine benefits of people getting a drink, participants moving around to stay fresh and getting people to interact. And finally: an Italian Family Style Dinner, where people help each other make salad could do wonders in terms of networking. So, why is that considered less impressive than a 5 star dinner?


Many people are involved in a meeting, without actually having the feeling that they contribute. Again I got my inspiration on this from Mike and Eric at MindMeeting. Catering crew, cloakroom staff, event producers, they all speak to delegates at some point. So they can all help spread the tone-of-voice that the meeting needs. They all should know, whether to be informal or not, outgoing or not, inquisitive or not. If everyone on the staff speaks the same language, it will help set the right atmosphere for the day.


And finally, you may find yourself in need of a moderator. He will have a much easier task, if he is not the only one working on the right tone-of-voice. She or he will be able to stimulate interaction much easier, if people can see, hear and are well fed.

To the moderator the task is to make the right choice in tone, pace and style. To you the important choice is to find the right moderator: the one with the right skills, but even more important, the right personality.

In Conclusion

Moderation is crucial to the success of a meeting, since it is at the heart of the execution of meeting design and ROI. Designing moderation into every detail takes more then just hiring a moderator. It means looking at every aspect that will make the road to the objectives easier and more effective. Every meeting owner should – besides a moderator – consider choice and dressing of the venue, catering and staff and look at every angle from the perspective of moderation.

About The Author
Jan-Jaap In der Maur
Jan-Jaap In der Maur provides meetings with professional moderators-facilitators and coaches the non-professionals, to help make meetings more effective, fun and worthwhile.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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