Perhaps the most essential component of a successful virtual advisory board is the moderator. While good software and hardware are vital to creating a professional, polished meeting, the advisory board succeeds or fails at the hands of the moderator. He or she determines whether the meeting will be engaging, worthwhile, and productive. Being a good moderator is more than following a few simple steps, though—it’s an art form, a craft to be mastered. Good virtual moderators are also great live moderators, recognizing that at the core of every event, virtual or otherwise, is human connection. The following is a list of some of the things great virtual moderators do to foster human connection and take their virtual advisory boards to new heights.
It’s a cliché your teachers, your coaches, and your parents have been telling you for years: preparation is key. The same is true for moderators, of course. Good moderators know what’s going to happen in the meeting before it happens. They ensure there’s a robust moderator guide to facilitate discussion and while avoiding making the advisory board didactic and boring, good moderators chart a course beforehand and stick to it. They schedule icebreakers at the beginning of events (a must-have at any virtual meeting) and have mapped out all the breakout discussions and Q&A. They also make plans for when things go awry—an advisor takes too long to answer a question, the discussion goes off-topic, someone forgets to turn off their camera and goes to the bathroom—the virtual moderator is ready to tackle anything that comes their way. Additionally, good virtual moderators don’t get too close to the content; instead, they seek to understand what the content owner wants from the advisors and tailor the advisory board experience around those objectives, ultimately supporting great feedback and recommendations from the advisors.
After practicing what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it, along with the general meeting flow, the virtual moderator sets to work conducting the advisory board. This may mean announcing the names of all the advisors, giving an order of how the meeting will unfold, and periodically providing updates to participants on where in the agenda the advisory board currently stands. While this kind of direction can be off-putting in a live setting, it is crucial in a virtual one. It fends off the number one killer of virtual meetings: participant disengagement. Virtual meeting participants tend to think they can multi-task (they can’t) and unless the moderator is meticulously conducting the meeting by asking questions and giving updates, it becomes too easy for advisors to drift off to other things. Additionally, good virtual moderators know it’s important to let the discussion questions build upon one another—they refrain from skipping ahead and keep advisors focused on the discussion at hand.
The cardinal virtue of virtual moderating, awareness is the key to meeting success. Mindful virtual moderators notice the details—who’s paying attention, who doesn’t have their camera on—and make the key adjustments that save the meeting from mediocrity. They notice who’s not paying attention and engage with that person. If an advisor doesn’t have their camera on or is having software issues, the mindful virtual moderator asks them to turn their camera on or helps troubleshoot. The mindful virtual moderator will also be aware that virtual advisory boards differ greatly in terms of focus—in live meetings, the moderator finds themselves the center of attention, and in virtual ones that role is taken up by the slides. They will then ensure the slides are adjusted accordingly (made less cluttered, perhaps). Finally, the mindful virtual moderator doesn’t go it alone—they consider bringing on a co-moderator as a second set of eyes to more efficiently execute the advisory board, allowing themselves to focus on moving forward while the co-moderator accounts for and watches all the contingencies.
Let’s face it, virtual advisory boards are hard to do well. There’s something about in-person interaction that’s irreplaceable—witnessing body language and facial expressions in person simply leads to a deeper human connection. But whether amid a global pandemic, or your company or client is looking to save some money, virtual events have become standard fare. So, make the most of them. By finding a moderator who can be prepared, direct, and aware, your virtual advisory board is almost as engaging as a live one.