A client recently thanked me for moderating an event, and in all truthfulness, I was facilitating that meeting – not moderating.
I realize many people use those two terms interchangeably but in my mind, moderating a panel discussion is a subset of facilitating a meeting. And this is where my two worlds collide.
For close to 30 years, I have been facilitating “high-stakes meetings” – those events you can’t afford to screw up – so it makes sense to hire a professional facilitator to guide the conversation. Most of the events are around facilitating the discussion of a group of people to achieve the desired result – typically an agreement on the best path forward.
Back in 2014, I decided to hyper-niche my facilitation skillset into the panel moderation world. Moderating a panel is, quite simply, a very specific type of facilitation.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a moderator is one who “makes certain that a formal discussion happens without problems and follows the rules.” (see my further discussion of the role of the moderator). The panel discussion typically follows a defined format and centers around a conversation amongst the panelists with some audience involvement.
In my Extraordinary Team blog, I state that “the goal of all facilitators is to make things easier. They help guide the team process, enabling people to understand the issues, reach agreements and plan next steps. Whether the team is planning for the future, solving a problem, improving a process, resolving a conflict or deciding a course of action, our high-stakes meeting facilitators® help the team achieve their desired results efficiently, effectively, and in the least amount of time required.” (see my further discussion of the role of the facilitator).
A moderator certainly facilitates the discussion – no doubt about that. However, the conversation generally does NOT involve the entire room – the primary discussion is between the panelists. Nor is the conversation aimed at making agreements and creating a path forward action plan.
I might be quibbling about the nuances between the two definitions, but hopefully, this sheds a little light on the difference between moderating and facilitating an event.
For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.