Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it. 


The question, ‘What is a moderator?’ was often discussed during my workshops on workshop facilitation. Everybody understands the term differently. One reason for this is that there are different types of moderators with different functions. The following MindMap gives you some roles a moderator might fill.

Roles of a moderator.
The different roles of a moderator worked out during a workshop.

Furthermore, the roles might change during one single programme. For example, a moderator might first guide participants through the programme, help certain group processes to begin and then be a trainer on a subject.

Roles of a moderator and their Objectives

If you are hired as a moderator your contractor should make absolutely clear what your role and your competences, as well as the objectives of the moderation (expected outcome), will be. It’s up to you to get that right as most companies and organisations do not know the differences. So continue to ask questions until you establish a mutually acceptable framework and fix it in writing, which of the different roles of moderation you should fulfill. This helps to avoid disappointment on both sides and has the secondary benefit of demonstrating your professionalism.

In the following subchapters we have compiled some guidance for the different main roles.


Rather than being a moderator in the true sense, a host will have the role of an announcer or presenter. Although hosting is more specifically concerned with accompanying group processes, many people will still see this one of the roles of a moderator. Tasks include:

  • Welcoming the audience as well as the guests.
  • Announcing the next scheduled item on the program.
  • Guiding the group in terms of logistics, for example, directing participants to where food will be served during lunch breaks.
  • Winding up the programme and summarising its activities.
  • Creating a positive atmosphere.
Roles of a moderator: conference leader
Shireen Naqvi of the School of Leadership (SoL) hosting the annual Young Leaders’ Conference in Karachi.

Therefore, it’s crucial to know the objectives, the audience and especially the guests/panellists/resource personnel. You should dress suitably, be interesting and create a positive environment with warm words, encouraging contributions and a steady smile.

You should face the audience and address it constantly. Only when welcoming and directly speaking with a guest should you have eye contact with him or her.

Before the event some research is required concerning the topic and the resource personnel on:

  • Life of the participant
  • Interests
  • Character
  • Quotations on him/her
  • Awards and other achievements

Only then you will be able to find words for the next guest on stage and to create curiosity and excitement. Here, a slightly exaggerated example.

We have been waiting for a long time. Many years have passed. He never came to Islamabad as his precious time, his contemplation in the world of arts, and his dedication to his outstanding talent did not allow it. All his life, at school, at college, at university, throughout his career, day and night, be it in Lahore, Paris or New York, he dedicated himself to his vocation, his desire to create harmony between people like you and me, between Indians and Pakistanis, between Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. 

Many times we went on our knees to Lahore. Every time we returned empty handed. But finally, he promised to come. We are proud, delighted and excited that he has now fulfilled that promise and will share his extraordinary experiences with us. He needs no further introduction. There can be only one star who combines all of these extraordinary talents, one for whom we have been waiting for so long and only one who is unmatched in his approach. 

Roles of a moderator.
The different roles of a moderator worked out during a workshop.

Please join me in welcoming this living legend of the New York art scene. Please give a warm welcome to our guru Mr. … 

TV Anchor

While in group moderation you have direct contact, immediate reaction and can sense the atmosphere; this is not the case in a television studio (except shows with a live audience). This will be different from other roles of a moderator unless you have three or four people on the panel. Moderation in this context has different objectives: on the one hand you might be more of a presenter and on the other an agent provocateur whose role is to incite a heated debate to ensure good ratings. This kind of discussion is not aimed at results and solutions so much as entertaining the audience at home.

Generally, you face your studio guests and you will face the camera only when addressing the audience at home directly. Normally, you have a resting pose or “home position” for your body from which you will make an occasional gesture. The amplification effect of television means that anything more could give a hectic impression.

In this format your role is mostly not moderation as the aim is not to calm down heated arguments but rather to instigate your studio guests. Nonetheless, the overall chain of six steps is more or less identical [see Preparation]: after welcoming and introducing the guests you ask for their opening statements, from which you select (not in a democratic process —TV is not democratic) and deepen the issues for discussion, before you have more or less tangible results (mostly less) or a consensus of the panellists (mostly not) and wrap up the programme (mostly very abruptly).

Like an announcer you have to be prepared to present your studio guests as well as to introduce the topic. Consequently, some research is required. Have some initial questions ready to start off the discussion. Have some more questions ready in case your guests are not too talkative.

For television appearances it is important not to wear clothes with checks or with narrow stripes. For technical reasons these will be highly disturbing interferences on the TV set. Furthermore, black and white is more difficult to balance with studio light. So it is better to wear monotone colours.

In television it is even more important to win your audience through attractiveness (clothes, make-up), smiles and confidence. Unfortunately, image is much more important than content. You might find that odd, but it goes with the territory and the successful television anchor will learn to work with it.

Business Meetings

Business meetings are an interesting challenge as one of the roles of a moderator. While normally participants of workshops don’t know each other and are generally open, curious and interested, employees of a company are often aware of almost everything about their colleague. All the jealousies, intrigues, sometimes even hatreds, but also admiration, friendliness and supportive attitudes are locked up in a single room. It can be a very hard task to focus the whole group on results — that’s what counts in this kind of moderation process.

An additional challenge will be presented if your boss is part of the meeting as his authority could limit your ability to moderate [see What should I do if…]. Unless these meetings are aimed at team building or skills training, they are usually aimed at bringing people together to achieve results in a manner that is both time- and cost-effective. Your company will have certain objectives and it is vital to clarify what these objectives are with your boss. The more specific the answer you receive, the more focused can you be on achieving these objectives.

Guiding a business meeting
Much higher outcome in shorter: moderated business meetings.

Preparation for business meetings includes organising the room and equipment as well as the participants [see Event Management + Moderation/Preparation]. You should ensure that participants are well informed about the meeting and rather than demanding that they come it is sometimes helpful to write an interesting teaser to lure them through curiosity. It is useful to create a positive and productive atmosphere that is distinct from the usual work environment.

After your welcoming address, you should set the basic ground rules, for example that no contribution can be longer than three minutes. Announce the topic and the expected outcome. Don’t use imperative phrases such as ‘you must’ or ‘you have to’, but rather be suggestive: ‘Today we came together to find jointly a solution for the challenge which is important to us all…’With the right moderation technique [see below] it should work smoothly and be enjoyable for all participants. As moderator you know which technique to choose depending on the size of the group, the objective and the topic.

Of course you should visualise the process, too. After having worked out the results conclude with an action plan. This should outline who is responsible for what and the relevant deadlines. Both the visualisation and action plan should be presented to your boss. Ideally, this should be accompanied by a photo protocol [see Post-Processing] and an executive summary (decision makers don’t have much time).


As trainer you want participants of a training session to learn a pre-defined and delimited issue, in which you are yourself an expert. This is distinct from a purely moderating role, which has an open outcome. The challenge is to accompany your participants during the learning process and not teach them (then you would be called teacher and not trainer). In this regard, it is concerned with moderating a group and keeping it focused on the topic at hand.

The objective and the content have to be suitable for the audience. Like all goals it must be realistic in level and timing. You cannot teach nuclear science to a children’s playgroup. You will not succeed in explaining the whole world of astrophysics in a three-hour seminar (unless you are genius).

The most frequent mistake is to overload training. Limit yourself, focus on few objectives, but cover them well! If there is more material to cover, it is better to organise a second session at a later date.

It is vital, before you begin, to work out what the necessary objectives of the workshop are. It is useful to go through the workshop plan beforehand, perhaps with a neutral friend, to identify what elements are actually indispensable.

Furthermore, you have to be aware of the way groups operate and to know when you should introduce a certain issue. You are a leader who knows the way, but it is also necessary to let the group find the way by itself: it must sweat while walking up a slope, overcome an obstacle, have a rest and march straight for the goal again. So it is key that you know in advance the final destination, have a map to guide you there and know the challenges that you will face on the way. In other words, as any good leader should, you will plan your route thoroughly, and plan it beforehand: the route will take the form of a workshop plan.

Panel Host

One of the roles of a moderator is a panel host. A panel is a moderated discussion of experts with an audience [see Panels]. You’ll find it in the legal system where the experts are judges. You can see it on television, where the guests are self-declared experts on nearly every topic. You will see it at conferences and seminars where different specialists on a given topic are brought in to speak.

Hosting a panel needs preparation.
Hosting a panel needs preparation – here an exercise during a workshop. 

In television, the word moderate in its pure sense is often misleading as producers often seek larger audiences by encouraging panellists to fight or even insult each other. In contrast, the aim of a conference is to air different perspectives and opinions so that the audience can make up its mind. It is vital to be prepared. A conference panel runs successfully if you are knowledgeable about the life and work of your well-selected panellists, have a firm grasp of the topic they will be discussing and have arranged the seating well.

Workshop Leader

Workshop moderation is the core discipline of the art of moderation. The moderator is a leader who leads a group to results, but he is not the leader of the group. The moderator is a specialist in techniques, but not a necessarily expert in a given topic. The moderator is neutral, focused on the process and not so much on the content (this is the trainer’s task). The moderator has a hard and a soft toolbox. The moderator ensures equal opportunities for participation.

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