Agent Provocateur is Global Insights’ oped section

In my small world of moderating at events, however, nothing much has changed – unfortunately. I had hoped that some of the best practices from the virtual world – shorter event times, shorter presentations/speeches, greater variety of format and creativity – would become the new normal.

We know that we have to work harder to break through the screen of indifference when an event or meeting is virtual. The hybrid format – focusing on a virtual and in-person audience is challenging technically and editorially. I know some clients who have decided to abandon hybrid in favour of virtual or in-person.

Editorially, however, I am still seeing the same errors at some, not all, the events that I moderate. Here are some of them:

Events are too top-down

They are based on the organisers’ needs and not those of the audience. Many of the panels I moderate don’t address the issues or answer the questions that are top of mind for the audience.

Agendas organised in silos

Breaking the silos – for example, ensuring scientists, diplomats and policymakers talk and listen to each other is a common aspiration among audiences. Yet organizers fail to apply this logic to their event programme. Too often, they put people from the same sector, for example civil society, on the same panel so naturally they frequently all say the same thing. There is no genuine debate or discussion – just different perspectives on the same topic, but based on the work or the country where the panelist works.

Panels are segregated

Mainstreaming is another big buzz word at these events yet all the speakers from one region are put together. Recently two great panelists from Nigeria and Cameroon complained to me that they, along with two other speakers from West Africa, had all found themselves on the same panel on inclusive growth. Can we not be mainstreamed into other panels with other sectors, they asked?

Young people need to be properly included in conferences and workshops, and not just symbolically. (Photo: Global INsights)

Sectors are pigeonholed

Young people at one event that I moderated said, while they were grateful to be part of the opening ceremony, they felt as if this was a token gesture – a box-ticking exercise from the organizers to show that they were taking young people seriously. Myself and the other moderator invited them back to the closing ceremony where we introduced them as a doctor and lawyer!

Jargon is rife

I struggled for days at one event to understand some of the panel briefs given to me. I showed one of them to various attendees at the conference beforehand and no one understood it. My speakers all had different interpretations about what the focus of the discussion was – and it was written in the programme. My fellow moderator had the same problem with his briefs but assumed it was because English was not his mother tongue. They were he said a “Wortsalat” or “Scrabble” (the board game) as it translates into German!

Manels are still with us

I had one panel with nine men – enough to make the UN Gender Champions and EU Gender Watch, who monitor panels to ensure gender diversity, scream in their remote offices.

Too many speakers are invited

One conference I worked at took the prize for most ambitious event; they had three keynote speakers followed by three presentations followed by four different panelists to be completed in 75 minutes. Bottom line on number of speakers is that if you have more than 4, you get a presentation of points rather than an exchange of ideas.

Events are too long

Seven hours! I have a one-day mostly virtual event with the moderator and a couple of speakers in the studio. It is supposed to last seven hours. I wonder who will be left watching virtually by the end of that day?

I am an optimist by nature. I still hope that the window of opportunity is there for an event reset, but I fear that it is closing fast as people fail to learn the lessons of the pandemic and apply some of the good practice learned over the past 18 months.

Claire Doole is a former BBC journalist (Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London), spokeswoman (UNHCR, IFRC, WWF International) who trains and coaches in the art of talking to the media, speaking in public, speechwriting and panel moderating. She is a sought after moderator and Master of Ceremonies for events and conferences around Europe. You can contact her on . She moderates in the virtual world and can help organise events that attract and retain your audience attention.

Useful Links for organizing online events: See Editor’s note. Even with free events, it is worth hiring a professional moderator.

See also: Switzerland’s Zooming in on the Circular Economy: Global Geneva Insights Special Report (LINK)

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