Neurology science shows: the moderator does matter.

27 januari 2020
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation, Je publiek beter bereiken
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Moderating and (co)designing the Best Event Awards World Festival in Milan was a privilege: lots of learnings, networking, interaction and engagement. The speaker line-up was worldclass, with something to please everyone. For us – the professional moderator – the workshop by Ben Moorsom (Neuroscaping) was one of the highlights.
Ben specializes in the neurology science and psychology of events, providing scientific research in to ways we can optimize the participant experience and approaches that help meet objectives better. I was happy to find that some parts of the typical Masters in Moderation way of hosting are actually proven to be effective. What we have been doing for a long time based on our gut-feeling is backed by science.

Here’s what I learned:

Our mental landscape is deeply polluted
Since we have so much on our mind, it is very hard to really concentrate on (new) stuff, making deep-learning a huge challenge. In our way of moderating, we always use interaction-formats to open up for each specific part of the program. This helps participants to consciously decide what it is they need and to focus on what the next speaker/workshop/session can bring them.
The way our moderators constantly reach out to the audience (rather than making them just ‘sit and listen’), helps them concentrate and block out distractions.
As professionals it is our job NOT to simply add more pollution. The benchmark these days seems to be, that all moderation should be high speed, dynamic. In my view, that is just adding more noise. Great meeting design and professional moderation will also plan for downtime; for quiet, more introspective moments that will allow people to digest and refresh.

Attention is something we must give and receive
You can’t expect people to give attention to speakers/content, without any effort. You can’t expect them to come up with questions/ideas/input, just by themselves. The only way to make a session really interactive is by reaching out to people and by actively investing in making them reach out to stage. And this – I’m happy to say – is one of the central trademarks of ‘our way of moderating': we constantly bridge the gap between stage and audience, by reaching out; both literally (walking into the room) as well as metaphorically. And we constantly challenge delegates to come up with input.
Giving our attention takes effort and the research Ben shared during his talk makes that clear: attention can decline after just five minutes. Strategic interruptions knock our audience out of their mental “autopilot” and get them to interact with new content and ideas in a more meaningful way. So that also means, that the moderator needs to be present regularly; or that a speaker should be able to regain attention every now and then.

Cognitive barriers stand in the way of engagement
Engagement is thé buzzword of my profession and of many event-organizers. The thing turns out to be: engagement is not something to be gained easily. In fact, our own mind is keeping us from really engaging. Science shows that peoples minds wander of up to 52% (fiftytwo!) of the time.
What really helps is if you don’t fight the wandering, but use it. Mind wandering is off-topic uncontrolled thoughts or images that pass through our minds. It could be a list of things on our to-do list or an upcoming meeting.  But it’s not all bad. Mind wandering is a way for our brain to save energy by “turning off” deep thought. Sometimes we (and our brains) need a break. A moderator needs to keep this in mind, generating audience stimulation during good discussion, but avoiding constant audience interruption – allowing the audience to recharge.

Distraction makes the memory of an event less positive
What does this mean? For example, if you were to use your phone during your child’s soccer game, research suggests that you would remember that game as being less enjoyable. In other words, distractions reduce our enjoyment during an experience and after, when we remember it.
So by making sure people are really ‘in the moment’,  you will raise the appreciation of an event. And you can imagine that a higher rating will make it more likely that people will actually act on the learnings. At the same time , there’s research that suggests people are only paying attention for about 25-32% of the time.
Moderation might help on two aspects: first of all, the moderator can help – both in design of the session and in interaction – to get maximum attention. But probably more importantly: the moderator can help make the most of that 25-32%, by drawing attention at the right moment(s) and by helping participants choose when to pay attention. A professional moderator will know when to act, when to engage participants and when to give people time to think, digest & plan for action.

Savouring makes the experience better
The more you look forward to what’s coming, the more you will like the experience, the deeper the impression will be, so the bigger the change or learning. Given that scientific fact, the better you can understand two of the moderator-tools we stress in all our trainings. First, there’s the introduction of the next speaker/topic etc. The value of a well-designed introduction is very much underrated and we feel that moderators should put more time into it. A great introduction can bring the savouring that people need.
A second form of ‘guided savouring’ are what we call ‘basic moderations: small interactions that help participants already focus on the next topic and assist them in opening their minds for what’s coming.
You can compare this to an upcoming holliday: the more time you put into looking forward to it (daydreaming, looking at brochures etc) and into preparing (booking, packing etc), the better the experience will be, acccording to research.

Optimal Room and Environmental Design leads to better concentration
As moderators, we also consider seating, light and sound (partly) to be our responsibility. And research suggests that these areas are important. As it turns out, bad conditions quickly bring down our learning capacity. And the reason is quite simple: if your brain needs more power to simply hear what’s being said- to filter out distracting noises or changes in the environment – there’s less capacity left to actually process the content. When seating is not exactly in tune with the format, people lose brain-capacity. So, there’s an important role for the moderator here, if only to stop the show when for instance a sound issue needs to be taken care of.

Ben Moorsom’s overall conclusion was: ‘There is immense competition on the gateway to the mind. Don’t compete. Navigate’. As a moderator, we can be that navigator.




Best moments of the Best Event Awards World Festival

10 januari 2020
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not, Je publiek beter bereiken
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Although the list of great projects we – as Masters in Moderation – did in 2019 feels almost endless, there can only be one absolute highlight: the recent Best Event Awards World Festival in Milan. In cooperation with Salvatore Sagone and his briljant team at ADC, everything we do emerged into one big climax. Our efforts were highly rated by the participants, the captains of our industry. I’m happy to share my thoughts on this great event.


For those of you, who don’t know us yet: we provide professional moderators, moderator-trainings and interaction design. And you can imagine what it felt like, being asked to moderate and (co)design the Best Event Awards World Festival: it is like playing the Premier League and a huge appreciation of our efforts to bring a new way of moderating to the world.
In Milan, we were designing and moderating for the peers in our own industry, so we were extra happy when the evaluation-ratings turned out extremely high.

Traditionally, the festival was divided into three parts: the pitches, the educational conference and the award show. On each of these elements, we stayed true to our typical Masters in Moderation style of doing things: engaging, participant-centric and objective-driven.

The Pitches

First, it was pitching time: from all entries for the awards, the best were invited to do a live presentation for the jury. For us, this part probably was the biggest challenge.
In four rooms, spread over a range of categories, dozens of projects were presented to the four juries. To be able to do this within a day and to make sure there’s a level playing field, timing is tight and the format is strict. This gave our four moderators (Hans Etman, Kjell Lutz, Samme Allen and Jan-Jaap In der Maur) very little room to play their part. Yet, they managed to keep the energy up all day, by playing little games, doing short interactions, by introducing quick energizers and by simply acknowlodging the fact that this long day is hard for everyone involved.
Just to give you a few examples: in ‘my room’ I had the jurymembers do a high-five run (having to do as many high-fives with participants as they could within one minute), asked the particpants to shout at the jury ‘we love you’ (and the jury in return: ‘thank you. We love you too’) and I told all jurymembers to walk out in the street, stand in the sun, close their eyes and take three deep breathts. If you think these 1-3 minute interactions are futile, you should have been there: it made people refresh, showed them that somebody cared for them and make this whole day of hard work feel like a little party.

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The educational conference

The next day, there was the educational conference, hosted by Jan-Jaap (internationally knows as JayJay). In the design, we set out to do a few things differently, using some guiding principles:
1. Half of the time will be interactive
2. No two sessions will be the same
3. Every session will lead to practical learnings that can be put into practise right away
4. Participants will feel loved, seen and involved
5. The theme will be ‘the nature of events’, the red line will be ‘co-creation’.

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We opened with a spectacular best practise: Rockin100 is the biggest rockband in the world, showing the real power of true co-creation. We practiced what we preached by really involving the participants in the opening song ‘We will rock you': weeks before the conference, we asked for volunteers. Some of them were selected to actually sing in the band. And that was no free ride: they had to practise already at home ánd spend the evening before the conference rehearsing with the band.
Putting in this effort and being on stage changed their experience, because they were a real part of the show, rather than only consuming it. It also changed the experience of the other participants ‘by proxy': seeing you fellow-participants on stage makes you feel different too.
This performance even changed the opening statement by the organizer. Salvatore Sagone had the guts to also play a guitar solo, thus connecting to the participants on a different, deeper level.

The first keynote – Walter Faaij – showed how tribal structures can change a meeting and how looking at your events through the eye of an anthropologist can teach you new values. Again, the approach was largely interactive. And we – the moderators – had silently introduced some rituals already on day 1, making the participants feel part of  tribe; if only for these two days.
What made this presentation special was that we cut it in two. At the end of part one, Walter gave the participants an assignment to do some field-research. Later that morning, he returned to stage to analyze the findings.

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After the participants co-created in changing the seating of the room together, keynote 2 took the shape of a team-challenge. Just imagine hundreds of participants walking around with furniture: apart from energizing them with some physical activity, it made them feel being an integral part of the event again; their event. After a short introduction by Michela Russo of Kantar Media, eight groups worked on a series of challenges, discussing how to engage the ‘participants of the future’. A jury of Kantar-millenials chose the winning team, that will be invited to a special webinar by the Kantar Millenial Lab.

The final keynote of the morning, Cyriel Kortleven, took the participants on a journey through creative thinking. It was exactly the light, entertaining, yet educational session that participants need at the end of a well-spent morning. Cyriel made a special effort in including small parts of the previous presentations into his talk, thus tying all elements of the morning together.

The Workshops

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After lunch, the particpants had the choice from an array of workshops. Our moderators (Hans, Kjell and JayJay again, plus Desiree Hoving) put extra effort in to making these true WORKshops, instead of just long presentations for smaller groups. The extra challenge was to prepare for any kind of numbers, since participants were completely free to choose; so a session could have 8 or 80 people in the room.
The moderators prepared the workshops in close cooperation with the speakers, expecting them to also go the extra mile to make the sessions really engaging and educational. Once the session started, we were there to help the speaker scale the format to the amount of speakers and to assist them in tuning into the needs of the attendees.

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Overall, we feel that the educational conference had the Masters in Moderation signature: choosing making true connections over a ‘glossy showcase’.

The Award Show


In the evening, JayJay and Sandy Nijhuis hosted the final part of this festival: the award show. Again, we made some clear choices:
1. This should be the fastest BEA award show ever
2. We would hand out awards at high speed; no lenghty ceremonies. In this way we created room for:
3. The audience should feel an integral part of the celebration at all times. Normally people just sit around, being bored and waiting for their own category. We wanted them to feel seen and ‘loved’ through the entire show.

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So what did we do? The awards were taken care of in a very structured, high speed format. JayJay and Sandy alternated turns from two sides of a catwalk, making sure that a category could begin as soon as the one before finished (even while pics of the winners were still taken). By having strict ‘rules’ for this approach, it made sure that the audience got into a steady rhytm, that allowed us to do one category every 90 seconds (including introducing three nominees, announcing gold/silver/bronze and taking pictures).
After a few categories, participants would get tired by this high speed format. Exactly at that point, we planned for some audience-engagement (assisted by Hans, who would walk around the room, while Sandy and JayJay were on stage). We had participants wave at each other, take pictures, cheer each other on, celebrate the jury, do the wave, rehearse the standing ovation for the winner of the Grand Prix etc. Overall, it made people feel part of the show, rather then being spectators. It showed them that instead of doing a fully scripted, ‘dramatized’ ceremony, we made it into a ‘group-party where everybody felt welcome and involved.
A special ‘thanks a million’ goes out to the event-teams from ADC, The Next Group and Clonework, for trusting us, for going along with our ‘crazy ideas’ and for providing the best staging and graphic design ever, allowing us to put up the show we had in mind.

The best compliment we received, was during the afterparty (and no, that person was not completely drunk). Someone told us: ‘Maybe the BEA World Festival should win the BEA World Festival next year’.