New formats and great pictures from Conventa Crossover

10 september 2018
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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Recently, I moderated the Conventa Crossover Conference again, in Ljubljana. Thanks to the organisers Šnd the participants it was a memorable event, once more. Let me share some work formats and meeting design solutions that we used to engage and energise.

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But first of all, let me thank the photographer (Matjaz Tavcar) for taking the ultimate moderator picture! This shows – in my view – exactly what a moderator should look like. Please notice a few thing about this picture (above):

1. The speaker is in focus, the moderator isn’t. And that’s how it should be, because the speaker is the hero and the moderator is just there to assist. By the way: the speaker is Patrick Roubroeks (Xsaga) … and what a great performance that was!

2. The moderator is listening to the speaker, but observing the audience! That’s where his main focus should be, since it is all about them and since the speaker is only there to serve te delegates.

Right, back to the formats. We did a few things differently:


Unlike most openings, this one wasn’t ‘big and loud’, but intimate and personal. As a moderator, I sat down at the edge of the stage and I slowed down, allowing all time to reflect on my questions.
It created a casual atmosphere, invited participants to determine their personal learnings and helped them open up and share. With that in mind, participants went into workshops right away.

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Keynotes campfires

After the workshops, there were two keynote speakers. The first one didn’t present as such, but engaged with the audience to co-create. Partcipants were asked to come up with wild ideas for events, Patrick Roubroeks commented on them and by doing so, delegates learned from the creative mind of this events-hero.
Furthermore, there was no Q&A right after the keynotes. Instead, after two keynotes, both were assigned a personal space in the room. The participants were allowed to make up their own mind: go and talk to a speaker in a smaller setting or check email, network etc.
These campfire settings made sure that the speakers would only talk to those truely interested and be able to give those people their full attention. Please compare that to the ‘normal’ situation, where 100 people have to wait for only 10 coming up with questions. And again, this contributed to the special Conventa Crossover intimate atmosphere.

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Another format we tried, was the ‘panel on demand’. This is what we did:
First, participants were asked to help change the seating of the room. Instead of putting 3 people on stage, the seats were placed in a square, leaving room in the middle for the panel to sit. Then the participants where told that they had a choice of 4 topics (within the overall theme of the panel). Each topic was assigned to one quadrant of the room. Everyone had to pick his favorite topic and sit in the corresponding quadrant. This lead to a room, where in one quadrant was 40% of all delegates and in another just 6 people.
The panel then turned to the quadrant with most people in it, giving most time to this topic. After three turns, the least popular topic was given 2 sentences per panellist. Overall it was fun: people were fresh, because they physically moved around; they were engaged, because the panel met their demands and not the other way around.

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There were also the Conventa Crossover Awards. Traditionally, this kills the dynamics of every conference: there were 16 finalists, who all had to be given the opprtunity to pitch. The initial, but rather traditional idea was to allow them all 10 minutes. This would have lead to 2 (!) hours of pitching, which wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.
At the same time, we didn’t want the pitches to be too short and we wanted the participants not only to vote, but also to learn from the projects. So this is what we did:
First, all finalists were allowed to show a video of 90 seconds and present a pitch of 30 seconds. So only 2 minutes in total. Then, all finalists were given a desk. In four rounds of 15 minutes each, participants were given the opportunity to visit a maximum of 4 projects, to ask questions and get more information.
Once again, this allowed participants to only invest time in projects they were genuinly interested in. And the finalists only had to present to those who really wanted to listen. In the end, some of the finalists talked to many participants and some only talked to a very small group. Is this fair? Wel, maybe not. But hey … this was a competition!

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Anarchy Session

One final format I’d like to share, is the Anarchy Session. In an open space format, participants were allowed to make up their own mind. We asked them to think about the future of the industry and what the most important challenges are. Every individual that wanted to discuss a challenge could claim one of the ‘conversation corners’. Everyone who felt like joining a conversation was free to do so.
It turned into a dynamic session, with people exchanging ideas, networking and sharing.

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Shits happens

One of the keynotes told us, that shit will happen … and so it did: they final keynote didn’t show up. With good reasons, but still: here was a challenge.
Ending early was not an option, due to planning of the catering Šnd the scheduled award show. So, what to do?
The good thing was, that we did have his powerpoint presentation; and the participants by this time were friendly enough with each other, to play around a bit. And so we decided to turn it into a joint ‘powerpoint karaoke': with each new slide I threw my catchbox at someone in the audience. He or she then had to improvise his/her way through that slide. We had fun Šnd learned something along the way.

I hope to return to Conventa Crossover next year. This event is truely unique, thanks to the willingness to share and experiment!


Energizers & Entertainment: The moderatorsí best friends Ö or worst enemies?

29 augustus 2018
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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Any moderator will have them in their toolkit: energizers. Any meeting owner will schedule some entertainment from time to time. If chosen wisely, they will both do wonders. But in just as many cases, they will only harm the outcome of the event.


When bringing up the subject, everyone tells some stories of horror: a congres that started with a briljant opening act, only to make people fall asleep right after that. Or the moment that participants are asked to engage in a belly-dance, making everyone very uncomfortable. Maybe the room full of people thinking Ďhere we go againí, when asked to massage the neck of the person one row in front of them. Or being forced into chatting with a random person one row behind you for no apparent reason.
On the other hand everyone knows that making learnings or information Ďeasy to digestí helps ROI enormously. Here are some doís and donít on energizers and entertainment.

Make it about content

People will do – and like! – anything, as long as they understand the added value of it. So choose your energizing formats wisely and make sure there is a clear connection to the subject of the day, the learning at hand or the objective of that particular part in the program.
People will gladly engage in conversation with their neighbour, as long as you make it clear to them what is in it for them, at that moment in time.

Make it about design

The general rule is as blunt as it is simple: If you need energizers, the meeting isnít properly designed.†Because letís be honest: on too many occassions, energizers and entertainment are just a cover-up for the fact that the programme sucks. But listen: people arenít stupid. They will be able to tell. This is exactly what makes participants hate energizers and subsequently: hate you and your event.
So invest in designing a briljant meeting that is energizing Ďby natureí. Make sure thereís a constant change of formats, seatings etc, in combination with great content and learning, and you donít need to worry. If you make sure people love every step of the day, there will be energy .. even without energizers!

Make it hard work

We focus too much on Ďhaving funí, where fun in itself is not what people are looking for. I mean, when you go to a bachelor party, then you look for fun. When you go to a conference, you look for content, learning, networking etc.
In general, hard work is what gives people energy. As long as the hard work is about their passion, problems and perspective. So if you are looking for new energy, look beyond Ďfuní and make them Ďsweatí for new energy. If youíre not sure about this one, think of it as going to the gym: sure you will be tired. But thatís a good, energetic form of tired.

Make it about them

Let yourself be guided by your participants. Observe and see what it is thťy need. If you feel energy going down, act. And when you act, make sure you come to understand your crowd. If you do, you will know what the best way is to give these people new energy. It is about truely connecting to them.
And if you make it about them, you will learn not to take it too far, too quickly. At the end of a three day conference, even belly-dancing might be okay. But at the start, people in general simply donít feel safe enough to act silly in front of a few hundred strangers!

Make it about that day

What worked yesterday will not always work today. So stop doing your same favorite routine every time. Build a toolkit of excercises and choose the right tool for the right moment. You wouldnít use a hammer to cut paper, right!?
So, look at the context, the topic, the crowd and choose accordinghly. Alternate concepts and make up new ones along the way.


Make it about the moment

Energizing is not something you can fully plan. Energy is something you need to act on, when called for. Keep observing, and act.|
So, massages will hardly ever work. But even for this corny concept, there will be a right moment every once in a while.


Make it about the perfect ending

The closing act should be more then just a way to wake people up before drinks, or to reward them for not leaving early. It should help the day to an effective conclusion. Therefor the ideal conference closer is cheerful, positive, connective, sharp and summarizing the outcomes.
The closing stages are not the best time to open wounds (without time to stitch). So why put a stand-up comedian on stage, insulting all or a dance act, adressing no one? The best acts actually know and understand what meetings do. If you get a stand-upper or any closing artist, make sure you hire one that knows how to uplift your meeting.

In conclusion: design well, and there will be less need for energizers and entertainment. If you use them, make sure they really add something to content, communication and connection.

Sponsors: how to keep them happy, without pissing off your participants

25 mei 2018
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation
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We do understand why we need sponsors, right? Without them, many conferences would not exist. At the same time, we know why participants hate the sponsored parts of meetings Ö right? The struggle is, how to make this arranged marriage a happy one. Based on our experience, we have some suggestions.

sponsored by


Arranged marriages will be more successful, if someone really puts in an effort in the matchmaking. As a meeting owner, you maybe should not take all sponsors you can get (and yes I now, thatís hard Ö but be brave). Only go for the ones that really fit the content and that really bring value to your participants. It will make all parties involved happier.

Think as a participant
Make sure that your sponsors truly understand what your participants need and let them present from that point of view. It will benefit both delegate and sponsor. That means actually scanning their presentation and format, and discuss them.
After all, being a sponsor gives you the right to be on stage; not to put the participants asleep! Even though they pay, it is okay to be strict with your sponsors.

Design & interact

We should look for sponsored concepts that are Ďparticipant-centricí: find formats that will bring the delegates added value. Instead of having a sponsor present, have them interact with the participants and find their common interest. If a potential sponsor doesnít want that Ö find another sponsor!

Some potential participant-centric sponsor formats are ( and some may be combined):
Question based presentation: a sponsor gets on stage, but doesnít present. He/she will only answer questions from the audience. The effect: an on-demand engagement, rather then a forced one.

Case-study: crowdsource real day-2-day problems from the room. Instead of a sponsor then selling his product, he will use his expertise to help these participants to solve these real-life problems. The effect: Participants get valuable help; sponsors get to proove the effect of their offering.

Buzzword bingo: determine a few things a sponsor canít say (for instance: Ďour product Öí). If all boxes are ticked, thereís a penalty (should be a funny one, though).

Quick tour: all sponsors have a booth. Do a carrousel, where all participants in smaller groups get a 1 minute presentation at each booth. Later on, they can visit the booth again to ask in-depth questions. The effect: participants will consciously choose the sponsors of interest; sponsors only talk to hot prospects.

Planned networking: determine timeslots where people get to talk to sponsors for a few minutes. People can subscribe to 1-2 sponsors in each timeslot (great in combination with the carrousel). Sponsors will not be able to talk to everyone, , but will be sure to get in touch with those genuinely interested in their product.

Sponsor hackathon: at each table, a sponsor works on a specific case-study or challenge. Participants are free to contribute to each case-study they like (in an open-space format). The effect: freedom of choice and a dynamic energy.

Panellist: sponsors get to be one of the experts on a panel, together with other speakers. This helps get them to talk about a topic rather than about their product. If they do well, people will automatically be interested in the product. The effect: the sponsor becomes a valuable part of the content and meeting design.

Sponsor-quiz: do a few rounds of a quiz-format throughout the conference. Do 3-5 questions per sponsor, who get to comment on the right answer. The winner will win something really great/useful (to be provided by the sponsors, from their product range). The effect: people will have fun, while getting the obligatory sponsor-info.

In summary: only work with sponsors and formats, that bring added value to the participants. Thatís the only way all stakeholders will be satisfied.


No more speakers … experts, please!

19 oktober 2017
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, Geen rubriek
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What happens, if you put a speaker on stage? Yes: he or she will speak! Participants will sit back and listen (at best); the speaker will talk … endlessly, sometimes. But what would happen, if we would stop referring to them as ‘speakers’, and would from now on call them ‘experts’? That would open up an endless number of engaging and interactive options. And that is exactly why we – the moderators – don’t want speakers on stage. We want experts!


In our Workshop Interaction Design we take the average congres as a starting point: a line-up of speakers. And then we take our participants on an expedition, finding alternative formats for these speakers, in order to make each session more fun en more effective. And the great thing is: none of these formats take extra time or money. But they dů bring extra engagement between expert and participants. Here are some options:

Moderated interview

Instead of allowing the expert to talk, all by himself, get your moderator to interview him/her. This will ensure that the most important questions are answered, that the perspective & needs of the participants are met and that there will be interaction & engagement.
Once you take this step, there’s an number of options to involving the audience actively:† having them prepare questions in groups, using eventech to find their most urgent challenges to talk about, etc.

Another form of moderated interviewing is the panel-conversation. And yes, I know: in many cases the panel is even deadlier then a speaker. But believe me: if well executed, a panel can be inspiring and energizing!

Participative interview

With the moderator interviewing him, the expert is still mostly in the lead. If you take it one step further, it will be the participants directly interviewing the expert, with the moderator only being there to streamline this proces.
A well-known format is the town-hall meeting or college tour: the expert is on stage, only to answer questions from the audience. If giving the initiative to the participants completely is too frightning (or if you need to make sure that a minimal amount of content is covered), let the moderator split the timeslot into a few clear chapters, allowing the experts to open up each of them with a 1-minute talk.

Another variation to this theme is the so-called campfire-session, fit for smaller groups: The expert and the participants sit in a small circle (as if sitting around a campfire), as equals. The experts is allowed a 1-2 minutes opening, but then it is over to the participants. The great thing about this format, is it’s intimacy. It allows participants to feel more free to talk to the expert and to each other.
I often use this one in the ‘dying moments’ (sometimes they are, almost literally) of a congres day, when often there’s less people in the room. Changing the seating to a campfire will bring new energy and engagement.
But, you might say, this only works with smaller groups and you have 300 delegates in the room. True, but think of this option: instead of having each speaker talk to 300 people, let each speaker do 6 campfires in a carroussel. This will bring the numbers down to 50 per session!


There’s a long list of TV-formats that include experts and that can be brought to stage with some minor adjustments. The great thing is, that participants will recognize the formats immediately and will be ‘into the story’ within seconds. But beware: every TV-format has it’s pro’s and con’s, so choose with care. A ‘late night talkshow’ for instance will do wonders for the energy, with all the high-speed comedy etc, but at the same time is kind of superficial. At some point in your schedule, this is perfect; on other moments, take another option.
The same goes for the moderator, by the way: not every profesional moderator will feel comfortable in every format. So when you’ve designed the meeting, look for the one moderator that will be the perfect match.

When looking at TV-formats, you tend to look at the talkshow/interview-format/newsroom-like options first. But let’s take it one step further: imagine using the Out-of-the-box format and having an expert reflect on the outcomes. Our how about this one, having the expert walk around, commenting on what is happening. How powerfull would that be, compared to a speaker on stage!?
One more suggestion: why not use a playfull TV-format, like ‘Have I got news for you’, in which 4 of your experts engage in friendly battle? It would certainly spice up things.

Case Study

The thing with speakers is that they bring you their story, leaving it up to the audience to translate the learnings to their own daily reality. By turning the speaker into an expert, we can turn this around. It is so powerfull, to have the participants work on a case study, an assignment or an example from their own life and then have the expert function as their side-coach. Instead of a room full of listeners, you will then see groups of people working together and/or individuals sweating on a task. The expert is there to help them when they get stuck, or to explain general learnings once they experienced them.


We all know that even grown-ups learn better, when they play. So let’s organize a pub-quiz rather then a dull presentation. Have teams fight for ‘the grand prize’, answering questions. And let the expert explain the answers or be the jury.
Or take any party game you know, and turn it into an expert-format. Let’s take a board-game for instance, where participants put a question to the expert on each spot on the board, have the expert role the dice and answer whatever question comes up.


Have participants talk to each other first in any given format: House of Commons debate, table-sessions, Lego Serious Play … anything that will have them think the topic over, before the expert comes on to respond to their own findings. It bet you, that the experts’ performance will be more tailored to their needs Šnd that they will pay more attention to the experts’ answers.

Participants are the experts

Why does the expert have to be on stage? Or why does it even have to be someone outside the group? In many cases, the real expertise is in the room, with the participants. So even is you have a speaker, don’t treat him like some sort of half-god who knows it all. Make him part of the group and help him find extra knowledge there. If you have expert and delegate-expert cooperate, wonders will happen.
I had an opening key-note once, who insisted on staying for the full day. He took part in all discussions and work-formats, constantly referring back to his opening-speech, asking questions and learning new stuff himself. This speaker was not bigger then the group, but made the group bigger!

In conclusion

I could go on endlessly. And so could you, if you simply allow yourself to be creative.
So can we please remove the word ‘speaker’ from our vocabulary? Using them as experts instead will make meetings more enjoyable and effective, and that is in everyone’s interest: participants, moderators, meeting-owners and speakers … sorry: experts!

The ďwhyĒ of moderation: open, digest, translate, implement.

2 juli 2017
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation
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Why are moderators doing, what theyíre doing? Why are they using the interaction-formats, theyíre using? What is the real added value and how do you profit most of the role of the moderator?
These questions can only be answered, if you have a clear view on the bigger ďwhyĒ of moderation.


Really effective moderation is so much more then just Ďmaking things run smoothlyí (as the dictionary says). Moderation is about interaction, engagement and dynamics. Thereís a few basic reasons for the moderator to open his mouth and connect to the participants; a few functions that his interventions can have.

Opening the mind:

If you want people to take in information, if you want them to learn or change, it is vital that they are open to it. This is where the moderator can play an important part.
Prior to a speaker, a round of workshops, a panel or any other part in the programme, the moderator can help Ďprep themí for whatís coming next.
Thereís a large number of options that every professional has in his toolkit. Basically, thereís a few categories (and none of them takes a lot of time or budget):

  • you can ask the participants a questions, have them chew on it and then ask for responses.
  • You can give the participants an assigment, like drawing, building or writing stuff.
  • Or you can have them talk: to others, or to themselves (youíll be surprised how powerfull private reflection time is!)
  • And so on Ö


At most meetings, we stuff participants with information and inspiration, without allowing them time to swallow. Itís a lot like how gooses are fed to get better foie gras.
Great moderation means: planning timeslots to give people time to reflect on what theyíve just learned. And using specific workformats to do so. This will help them to consciously decide, what it is they want to remember of this speaker, this workshop, this panel, this day, etc.
Thereís a number of options, here:

  • You can have participants work on a project all day long (individually or groupwise), allowing time for that after each item in the programme.
  • Or you can simply allow time to take notes. And even order them to do so.
  • And once again, you can have them talk to each other, in a vast number of formats.
  • And so on Ö

Note: when you plan for a Q&A, also plan for digestion-time. It is simply not fair, to ask participants to come up with briljant questions, just 3 seconds after the speaker is finished! In an earlier blog, I wrote down some Q&A-tips


The next step in effective moderation is to help participants translate what they digested into itís use for day to day reality. After all: meetings are (almost) always in a meeting room, far away from the actual workplace, situation, problem Ö or whatever.
A great moderator will find ways of having people (in their minds) go from the meeting venue to the Ďworld outsideí. This might mean things like:

  • Asking people to close their eyes and envision the effect of what theyíve just learned on their job.
  • Or telling them to map out the perfect situation as they see it, after this speech.
  • Or discussing on the spot with other stakeholders, what the Ďperfect pictureí would look like.
  • Or whatever creative option you can think of Ö


If people donít take action, nothing changed and the meeting has been a waste of time. Moderation can help to get real output, after each part of the programme and at the very end of the day. The trick here is, to actually get participants to take action on the spot. Being satisfied with them promissing to do stuff tomorrow, brings along a great risk of them not keeping this promiss.
One way of doing this, is by having participants form taskforces, make appointments or set processes in motion, even during the meeting (instead of postponing this till after the event, as happens a lot). This doesnít have to be limited to the actual meeting room: getting your participants to make one call, or send one email to start things up is great moderation.

Bring energy:

Vital to all elements mentioned so far is that participants still have the energy to do all that. Obviously, the risk of fading energy is low, if you do all of the above, but stillÖ
Moderation means: keeping an eye on energy and taking action if itís gone. There is ofcourse a number of Ďgeneral energizersí, but honestly people are kind of fed up with those. Preferably, there is some sort of connection to the content.
Some options to work with are:

  • Change groups, see new faces
  • Have people move around: take a short walk for the next Ďdigestion timeslotí or vote with your body, for instance.
  • Change the seating of the room; from cabaret to campfire, for instance. And have the participant move all the tables Ö they will love it and it will bring so much energy!
  • Change the programme: swap speakers. Change a presentation into an interview Ö anything to create excitement
  • And so on Ö


Allow people to make a real connections, have a real conversation and they will love it. The moderator is there to make it happen.
The best meetings Iíve witnessed, made participants connect in constantly changing formats: one on one, group of 3-5-10 and plenary. By constantly looking for the best groupsize and (networking) format, you will help reach the objective of the meeting.

And the same goes for connecting Ďthe crowdí to the speaker: as a moderator, you need to find the right tone and format to make it feel like a one on one conversation. Opening the mind, digesting translating and implementing (as mentioned above) will be better, if you choose alternative formats like:

  • Interview
  • Town Hall Meeting
  • College Tour
  • Campfire
  • Etc.

Conclusion: a lot of moderation you see, is just random interaction for the sake of it. Real effective engagement will only happen, if your moderator understands your objective, deeply Ďgetsí your meeting design and translates that into a well thought of choice of options. That will take the moderation from Ďwhyí tot Ďwowí!

The DNA of a succesful panel

30 april 2017
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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It is not that often, that our profession makes it to the newspapers. So when our queen Maxima was part of an international panel on ‘women in top positions’, the world (or at least Holland) got a rare view on the world of meeting-moderation. The picture with the article gave everyone an immediate insight in what makes a panel great … or a failure.


To be honest: most panels are poor on content, engagement and entertainment. It is †- in our view – one of the hardest parts of moderation. Let’s analyse the picture.

Size of the panel

In our view, 3 people is the maximum for a succesfull panel … If they put a gun to your head, 4 is allowed. But if you take a close look, there’s at least a fifth person (apart from the moderator), just outside the picture on the left hand side. From experience we know, that this is too many and that with more then 4 the energy and interaction will go down. People will start fighting for their chance to say something, rather then listen and respond. And some will just give up, start staring into the audience and have a negative influence on energy in the room.
So if you need to have more then 4 in your panel, start looking for a concept to handle that problem: change the panel every few minutes, alternate the panel conversation with short 1-on-1 interviews, allow each panellist to have one private ‘commercial break’, etc.

Casting of the pannellists

A panel should be more then a random selection of speakers. And it should not be †- like in most cases – a part of the programme, where you bring everyone on stage who has to be there for a number of (mostly political, tactical) reasons, but who have no real added value to the objective of the meeting.
In this case, conscious choices seem to have been made as to who to put on stage; which is a good thing. And they even seem to have different backgrounds: a politician, someone from corporate top-management, two second-ladies. This again is positive: a good panel features people who have a different opinion on the same problem, or who look at a challenge/question from a different perspective. This may be consumer-producer-government, management-workforce-union, or whatever works for that topic.


A great panel not only features conflicting or complementary views, it also makes opposite personalities meet. In this case all characters seem to be there: the thinker, the anarchist, the comedian, the big mouth. Having different kinds of people on stage should be one of the issues, when looking for panellists.

The moderator

Since we don’t know the moderator of this panel, we can’t tell you if she is professional and if she’s the right choice for this particular panel. What we cŠn see, is that her position is all wrong. First of all, in general we like to stand and walk around. This allows the moderator to take a different perspective on the panel every now and then, and makes interacting with the audience easier (by walking over to them).
But if you have to sit down for any number of reasons, do nůt sit in the middle! The moderator should at all times be able to see all members of the panel in one glance, in order to observe how they respond to each other and to get interaction going. And that obviously is not the case, here: the moderator is looking at our queen Maxima and has no way of seeing what the rest of them are doing.


Obviously (well, we think so … but most panels do show a different picture), you want the panel to interact with the audience. But in order to get that going, you first need to get the interaction within the panel going. And that is, where most panels fail.
In this case, we fear the same problem: looking at the body language, no one seems to be dying to respond to what queen Maxima is saying. They are either politely waiting for their turn to have their statement in, or even worse: they already did and are now waiting for this panel to be over.
Basically, if you do not get the panellists talking to each other, what is the use of putting them on stage as a group? If you want them speaking one after another, get them on stage one by one!

If you dů want them to interact, there’s a few tricks (apart from not sitting in the middle). First you don’t ask all participants in the panel the same question. You take every answer to a next level immediately.
Then, you hop on to a next speaker, when ever you can: if you ask queen Maxima something, she answers. If the follow-up question could be answered by someone else just as goods as by our queen, go to that other person.
And finally, observe: you will be able to tell, who has an opinion on what is said by one of her fellow-panellists. As soon as you see someone nod, ask that person why! If you do this at a somewhat higher pace early in the panel, people will get used to them having a real conversation and soon, all panellists will feel invited to join.

Finally, if you want to know more about the art of panelling, take a look at the website Powerful Panels.


Overcoming your instinct: the many contradictions in being a moderator

30 maart 2017
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation
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Meetings (at least the successful ones) are about change. The only way to get change, is to do things differently and to find a new perspective. For the moderator, this means being brave and in many cases, going against your natural instinct. It is a profession full of contradictions.

© Twycer /

© Twycer /

If thereís danger, you flee. If you canít beat them, you join them. If thereís a fire, you extinguish it. Right? Itís the logical, sane thing to do. But not for a professional moderator. He or she will fight the danger, confront the opposition and keep the fire going (or even stir it up).
That is what weíve learned over our long years of moderation. Thatís what we teach our students in our workshops.†Thatís what we believe to be most effective in getting better meetings.
These are the most important instincts every moderator (and in his slipstream, every meeting owner) should overcome:

Serve, to be the boss: meetings are not (we repeat: not) about you, the moderator. They are about the meeting owner and even more about the participants. Yet, they need you to help make it about them and their objectives. Someone needs to take responsibility for all and to be in charge. And that person is you, mister or misses moderator!
This will leave the moderator balancing two completely opposite things: being in the background and very present at the same time. Being a leader as well as a servant. Having charisma and modesty.

Play to be serious: It is a hard to beat misunderstanding, that people only feel they are being taken seriously, if you act serious. Deep inside, every grown up still loves to play. Science shows that being playful enhances learning. So, treat serious business like fun!

Interrupt, to be polite; it is a misconception, that interrupting someone is always rude and that you should let everyone finish their statement. There are a few reasons for interrupting every few sentences. If only by asking Ďwhy?í, Ďhow?í etc.
The first one is: for most people, it is natural (science shows that in day-to-day conversation we interrupt each other all the time). So, it will make the interview feel more like a conversation than an interrogation.
Secondly, it will put the moderator in charge: with these interruptions, you allow your interviewee to continue or you stimulate him to elaborate.
And finally, to help the person talking to make choices: an interviewee/expert in general has enough knowledge to talk for three days. He will thank you for narrowing down the options for him, helping him keep time, for keeping an eye on the objective of the conversation or on the participants.
Basically, an interruption can be a very stimulating and effective way to have someone talk. It is nothing less than helping them tell the best possible story. Not doing that part of your job, that would be rude!

If itís stuck, donít push: It will happen to every moderator every once in a while, that participants seem to have no intention of interacting Ö whatsoever. Itís a nightmare, no questions from the audience, no response to your questions. The natural reaction is to push for engagement. And the strange thing is, the harder you try, the tighter the shell will be shut.
The trick is to accept things are stuck, to take time to reconsider, to closely observe the process & participants and then to Ďmassageí them into opening up. And that takes time and requires patience, lots of it!

Love the sound of silence: as a moderator, you are there to get the conversation going and to get energy into the room, right? But that doesnít mean that you have to fill in every silent second, like most moderators do. Thereís two reasons to love the sound of silence.
First, thereís the fact that people need time to come up with something to say or ask. After all, the speaker had weeks to prepare, as did the moderator. But participants get put on the spot all the time. Why expect them to come up with a brilliant question or reflection within 2 seconds after the speaker is finished? Please give them some time to reflect. Or even better, design space and/or work formats to help them do so.
Secondly, thereís the introverts. And thereís many of them! The easy option for the moderator is to turn to those who have no fear of speaking in public and are always ready to give an opinion. But that will prevent you from getting the input of the introverts. And beware: they are silent, not stupid! Therefore, every moderator should learn how to Ďopen upí these introverts and make them feel safe to speak up.

If thereís bad news, make them tell it: by habit, meeting owners always want to Ďkeep it positiveí. We tell ourselves to see the opportunities, not the problems. And that, in our view, is counter-productive. By denying bad news, negative results and awkward information, you will not get sustainable results. Potential problems should be recognised and taken care of.
By nature we want to be liked. But as a moderator, sometimes that is not the part you play. In order to learn, delegates have to be challenged. Thatís why the moderators need to play the part of the devilís advocate every now and then Ö even if it gets you a low grade on evaluation.

Celebrate the pain in your ass: if you want an easy ride, talk to the ones who will give you the desired response or who will come up with the Ďcorrect answerí. If you want a result that is feasible and supported by all, look for the pains in the ass. Because the obstinate ones, are the ones who will bring you new insight.

If it hurts, cut deeper: sometimes, a meeting will get Ďunfriendlyí. On occassion, participants will get verbally hostile; with the speaker, with each other or even with you. The typical moderatorís first response will be to pacify. You want to tell people to keep it friendly, to listen to each other etc. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, that will only make things worse. Telling someone whoís angry that he canít be angry, will only make him angrier. So, the trick is to allow it to happen. Maybe even to arouse some more negativity at first, for instance by asking questions. And then at some point, you will find that the energy and the anger will fade (a bit). At that point, youíve gained the trust of the audience and they will be open to talking in a more civilised way.

Be radically neutral: we all have opinions. And we express them by speaking up or in our body language. A moderator nevertheless needs to hide his/her opinions. For the simple fact that the meeting is not about you (do we have to keep on saying this?). And by showing your opinion, you might alienate some of the participants from you, preventing them from taking full part in the conversation.
Does this mean you canít be provocative? Not at all. Simply make sure that if you introduce another opinion or viewpoint, you make it clear it is not yours. You should stir things up, but not by having an opinion or by taking a position. You do it by being on everybodyís side and by addressing all perspectives

Chaos is good: Like any human being, moderators love it when things go smoothly, in a predictable planned fashion. But is that effective and engaging? Not always. Create streamlined chaos, rather than fight it!
For instance: if you have participants talk to each other about a subject, it might be hard to get them to listen to you again. And thatís great! It simply means they are Ďoní, so you should be happy with this chaos.
Another example: at some point in the day, you feel energy is getting low. You can choose to simply execute the agenda as planned and hope it will get better Ö which it probably wonít. So, instead how about changing the seating, the order of speakers, the format. Will that be chaotic? Yes! Will it raise energy? Yes!

Know, but donít tell: as a moderator, you need to be very well prepared. You need to know whatís going on and you need to have all the information, to be able to help participants reach the objective of the meeting.
But in the heat of the moment, you need to keep yourself from showing how much you know. Because the meeting is not (Yes, we will keep on repeating this) about you. Because showing off irritates people. Because showing an opinion based on your knowledge might alienate you from part of the audience.
What you can use your knowledge for, is to ask the right question at the right time. It will make you look an intelligent moderator, not a fully informed expert. And thatís how it should be.

Forget time, to be on time: Yes, of course one of our main jobs it to keep track of time. But that doesnít mean: execute the schedule to the exact second. Time should be on your side.
Being a moderator means timing, without the pressure of time. You need to design and execute for a smooth rhythm, time to breath and think. You need to be aware of the designed programme and at the same time be flexible enough to change the timetable, if the objective requires that.
Constantly emphasizing time makes the day feel Ďtightí. By managing time (in cooperation with speakers and event managers) in a more subtle way, people will feel they have Ďall the time in the worldí

In conclusion: sometimes the long way home is faster. On occassion the high hanging fruit is tastier. And Confucius was right when he said: ĎIf youíre in a hurry, you need to sit down for a bití.

Kim Coppes
Jan-Jaap In der Maur

Eubea nomination: Moderation and Meeting Design go hand-in-hand

26 september 2016
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, News
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We are truly proud to be on the shortlist for the European Best Event Awards.†Our nomination in the category Meeting Design shows the importance of the seamless integration of moderation and meeting design.
In this project, our client Westland Cheese, meeting design agency MindMeeting†and Masters in Moderation cooperated like Siamese triplets. The well-coordinated efforts of all three parties were the main element in creating the success of the bi-annual Westland Family Congress: in our view, only a perfect combination†of objectives, meeting design and moderation will produce real ROI

Eubea 2016

ďWe had the best family congress everĒ, says Desiree Westland, one of the members of the congress committee. And in the process whe had so much fun!Ē
Every two years, the Westland family organizes a congress: family shareholders gather to face the specific challenges of a family-run business. After two Ė in their own words Ė Ďaverage editionsí, for 2016 they wanted something special and really effective.
In charge of this yearsí family event was the youngest generation of shareholders. Initially, they asked Masters in Moderation only to provide a moderator. But their openness to any suggestion was the start of a unique cooperation.


Our first meeting was a ball: the family was full of wild, creative ideas. We loved it (and them). Nevertheless, for the time being, we asked them to forget about themes, formats and so on. We convinced them into formulating clear objectives first.
So the moderation started way before the actual event – as it should be. Working with the Event ROI Instituteís methodology, we discussed in depth, what the congress committee wanted as the ROI of this meeting,
As part of the process, we individually interviewed a carefully selected group of Ďaverageí family representatives. It helped us to move from assuming, to actually knowing what the family wanted and (dis)liked.
This probably was the bravest of all steps the congress committee took. And a vital step it was in creating the right programme!

WP_20160409_11_50_57_Rich__highres† † ††WP_20160409_09_50_14_Pro__highres


The next important decision of this brave bunch of clients, was to allocate a major part of their budget to the design stage. So far, the family was used to start their preparations by booking a 5 star venue & hotel with top-quality food.
In this case they did not book a venue until the requirements were absolutely clear. We first defined what environment would help the moderation of the meeting design most, and only then booked De Kapellerput. Which by the way turned out to be the best venue ever: they really understood the programme design and went out of their way to help us do a perfect moderation!


Once the objectives were clear, we were ready to start designing. As a moderator, meeting design is a natural part of your profession: you know from experience what works, so you are well equipped to advise the meeting owner.
At the same time, you need to know the limits of your skills. So in this case, we decided to bring in a sound dose of specific meeting design power. And because we wanted the best, we cooperated with MindMeetingís Mike van der Vijver; ranked among the worldís best meeting designers.
And so the Siamese twins became triplets: the Westland family added their insider knowledge and enthusiasm, Masters in Moderation added their content & concept power and MindMeeting offered their immense creativity and sound methodology.

In two meetings, Mike van der Vijver guided us through a brilliant process. The family turned out to be very perceptive to his method of brainstorming and moulding of the programme. In the end it was Mathias Westland, who said: Ďit feels like we are organising a first day in primary schoolí Ö and thus the experience concept was born!
Having obtained the necessary input on objectives, experience and content, Mike started designing. And moderators as we are, Masters in Moderation helped him, by being a sparring partner. Mike said about the process: ďIt is rare for a client to have the courage and the commitment to get the design process right. The congress committee evidently trusted Masters in Moderation so much that they were incredibly easy to work with.Ē

WP_20160409_12_47_37_Rich__highres† † †WP_20160409_12_43_14_Rich__highres


The execution phase was one of true co-creation. The family did the better part of the actual meeting planning: they found the ideal venue and decorated it to perfection, in line with the desired experience.
On top of that, one of the nieces graphically designed the family-game that was to be played as the main part of the programme (only after the participants had decided on the rules and the challenges to be included in the game) and a Ďbe-my-friend-bookletí for everyone.
Masters in Moderation set out to find the perfect moderator. Kim Coppes was perfectly typecast in her role as schoolteacher-facilitator. And the Ďclassí loved her! She truly understood the meeting design and the need of the participants. About the meeting, Kim said: ĎThe format supported the content and objectives perfectly. It was designed with lots of love: imaginative and effective into every detail, and therefor a joy to moderateí.


In order to bring true ROI, great meetings need full integration of clear objectives, great meeting design and brilliant moderation. This project shows without a shadow of doubt, that this is the case for every event; even smaller ones with modest budgets. Or, as Desiree Westland put it: ďThere was a new surprise every step of the way. And every one turned out to be more effective then we could ever hope for. This project was special in every detail. We were so proud to be the meeting owners of this oneĒ.

We can only hope that the Eubea jury will see the sweeping value in this and award us the trophy.

Jan-Jaap In der Maur

Survey explains Mastering Moderation‚Äôs popularity: “I would do the same workshop again, in a heartbeat”.

19 februari 2016
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, News
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Kim Coppes and Jan-Jaap In der Maur trained almost 200 people in their workshop Mastering Moderation. A survey reflecting on the two years of training so far, shows staggering results: participants rate the workshop with a NetPromoterScore of 80! Or as one of the alumni phrases it: ‚ÄúI would do the same workshop again, in a heartbeat‚ÄĚ.

LM groep lacht Kim

Moderation is hot. More people ‚Äď not all of them being professional, full time moderators ‚Äď find themselves having to moderate sessions. That‚Äôs why Kim Coppes and Jan-Jaap In der Maur started a professional moderation-workshop, allowing all to learn and apply the basics of effective moderation.
From the first edition up till today, almost every workshop is completely sold out. Participants of incompany trainings and open workshops are happy every single time. An Alumni stated: ‚ÄúI have never learned so much in two days‚ÄĚ.

NPS score 80

A recent survey revealed the relevance, quality and effectiveness of the workshop. Not only did it score an extraordinairy NPS of 80, also over 70% of the participant rated the training with a nine or even a perfect 10, while 7 was the lowest score.
Participants value the high amount of practise and personal attention. They called the workshop original, playful, engaging, effective, direct applicable, memorable and even ‚Äėa profound experience, that changed me in my personal and professional life‚Äô.

LM JJ gesticuleert

On the impact of the workshop, the delegates judged it to be on average 4.3 out of 5 on several elements, leading to testimonials like: ‚ÄėThe feedback was honest and instant. There were so many skills, you can apply straight away‚ÄĚ.
Many of the participants called it the best training experience ever. ‚ÄėAnd I‚Äôve had a lot!‚Äô, says one. The vast majority indicated having learned new things, having improved their moderation skills significantly and having been able to implement the learnings. A happy attendee found: ‚Äėthis course is still resonating with me, and I‚Äôm using skills learned everyday‚Äô.

LM Kim lacht

Perfect trainers: 64%
The quality of trainers Jan-Jaap In der Maur and Kim Coppes proved to be an important ingredient in the effectiveness of the training. No less than 64% gave Kim and Jan-Jaap a perfect 5 out of 5, leaving 36% not any lower than 4 out of 5.
The participants spoke highly of their passion, creativity, personal attention, engagement and fun. The most special quotes were: “training isn’t a skill, it’s a state of being. The trainers were not training, they were helping’.

LM deelnemer in actie

Succes explained

After being overwhelmed by the succes at first, Kim and Jan-Jaap now have a good idea on the reasons: ‚ÄúMeetings are changing, for one: from speaker oriented to engaging, interactive and crowd-based. But as a whole, our society is changing, from top-down to bottom-up, to a more cooperative one. And that means that in every part of society, there‚Äôs more to be discussed. And that means that civil servants, employees of large organisations, well almost everyone finds himself moderating more often. Dialogue, we feel, is the basis of the next generations. And moderation is the basis of succesful dialogue‚ÄĚ.


Jan-Jaap In der Maur

Dutch moderators are hot. Here’s why.

14 januari 2016
Categorie√ęn: Art and value of moderation, Meet our moderators
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Dutch moderators are hot (and so are Dutch speakers, judging from the line-ups of many international conferences and tradeshows). Why is that? It must have something to do with the latest developments in events industry. Here are 8 characteristics of the ‚ÄėDutch school‚Äô, closely tied to the new era of meetings.

Vlag NL

Meetings are not the same anymore. No longer do participants want to sit back and listen to speakers for hours at a time. It is about engagement, nowadays. About cocreating, gamification, interacting etcetera. Well, you all now the buzzwords.
This new way of meeting is something the Dutch have been doing for centuries, already. Our national soul makes us perfectly suited for this new way of thinking and acting. That is exactly why Dutch moderators (and those from other countries, who have Dutch Moderator-DNA) are so popular with international meeting owners, meeting designers, event managers and foremost: participants.

Whatever his passpost says, you know a moderator is from the ‚ÄėDutch School‚Äô when you see the 8 determinators.

Allergic to authority:
modern meetings are not about the boss telling the people what to do, how to act and what to think. It is about everyone doing what he does best. It is about taking responsibility and bringing added value to the group and the process.
Dutch moderators were raised in a society where there’s respect for any individual, but not for the simple fact that someone has a long function-title or a uniform persé. I mean: our Prime Minister comes to work on his bicycle and doesn’t mind people calling him Mark. But we do respect him!
That is what makes the Dutch School moderators perfectly suited to facilitate the new kind of meetings we see around the globe.

Open minded:
The Dutch are open to any suggestion. No option is too crazy beforehand. They ‚Äď in general – are perfect brainstorming in the flesh: let‚Äôs dream first and come up with the ‚Äėyeah, but ‚Ķ‚Äô later.
This is exactly what modern meetings do: listen to each others ideas and views, without judging them upfront. Dutch-type moderation is about non-judgemental dialogue, instead of biased attitudes.
Does this mean, the Dutch will accept any wild plan? Not at all! Because they are at the same time open minded √°nd a little bit conservative; old fashioned even, maybe. That is what makes them perfect moderators.

In the ‚Äėdark ages of meetings‚Äô, objectives where not something to argue about. If the boss had decided we need to go left, the only job for the moderator was to have the attendees say ‚Äėyes‚Äô ‚Ķ and if they secretly thought ‚Äėno‚Äô at the same time, nobody cared.
Today, everything is changing. Meeting owners know that ‚Äď though having clear objectives is key ‚Äď there has to be room for changing directions, updating ideas & views etc. The goal may be clear, the route to get there may change along the way.
The moderator in this case is the sherpa: knowing the terrain, but listening to all-in the group. The modern moderator will be strict on the objective, but flexible on the process at the same time.

Holland is famous for its ‚Äėpoldermodel‚Äô: trying to solve any problem in cooperation and by consensus first. It probably has to do with their joint fight against the water; hence the name ‚Äėpoldermodel‚Äô: the polder being land made from water, being below see level.
This is in perfect parrallel with the modern meeting: dialogue over debate. Finding common ground, shared interest – even the truth if you will – over arguing and fighting.

Nobody in the world speaks Dutch and Holland is too small a country to be a superpower. Yet they ruled the Seven Seas once and are the smallest country to be succesfull at many sports. Why is that? I think it is due to the fact, that the Dutch are outgoing and not afraid to talk to and have fun with anyone. We have to, if we want to make any impression on the world
So, as a result the Dutch are not afraid to be on stage. And they love to talk to other people. The Dutch are funny (at least, I think so), lighthearted and entertaining.

although the Dutch may appear somewhat arrogant at first glance, in fact they are very modest and serving. And that is exactly what a good moderator needs: be in charge and visible at one hand. But know that this show is not about him at the same time. Servant leadership is in their genes.
The Dutch do not want to rule the world, they want to make make it more beautiful. And they do not want to make it more beautiful singelhanded, but love to empower others to do so. The typical Dutch moderator is not looking for power or credits. He’s looking to help others achieve … like a parent raising a child.

The Dutch moderators are not ones to simply do as they are told. They ‚Äď like their fellow countymen – like to challenge everything. They see themselves as more then simply being the one who makes things runs smoothly on stage.
They know about ROI. They know about Meeting Design. Both these recent developments in our industry are in safe hands with the modern moderator. He or she will have a deep understanding of what you ‚Äď the meeting owner ‚Äď are looking for. And he will be able to help you finetune ‚Äď or even design from scratch- using all his professional experience in group-ineraction

Being a small country, makes the Dutch agile people: they love new developments and will start using them immediately. So bring on Hybrid Events, Gamification and  … whatever is yet to come.

Meetings are changing. And so should the way they are moderated. This requiers a different moderator-DNA. It is commonly found in Dutch moderators, but rest assured: there are many moderators around the globe who are not Dutch, but are in fact exponents of the Dutch School. Find them, and your meetings will be more succesful.