A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. 

Lao Tze (6th Century BCE)
Chinese Philosopher

Workshop moderation is the core discipline of the art of moderation. The moderator of a seminar or workshop is a workshop leader who leads a group to results, but he is not the leader of the group [see table below]. 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.

Group Leader vs. Group Moderator

A Group LeaderA Group Moderator
…focuses on the content.…focuses on the process.
…participates in the substantive content of the discussion.…is a neutral midwife for the ideas and results of others.
… often wants to realise his own objectives.…is responsible for developing a group’s objectives.
…delegates protocols and builds visualisation of meeting’s shape and form.…develops protocols in response to the group’s progress and process and summarises results parallel to a meeting.
…is at least one step higher in hierarchy.…offers gentle guidance but doesn’t dominate a group.
…enforces rules, excludes disturbances and punishes.…develops rules with the group, deals with disturbances by gathering consent from the group.

When you are asked to do a moderation it is vital to clarify the objective of a moderation. Often, a client who wants to hire you is not aware of the different types of moderation. As a professional it is your responsibility to clarify what your role will be: are you a facilitator, a trainer, a host or a real moderator [see Roles of Moderation]?

Olaf Kellerhoff bei einem Workshop
Olaf Kellerhoff leading th group process during a Workshop close to Lahore (Pakistan), Nov. 2011.

Moderator’s Tasks

If you moderate a workshop or a group session your tasks as workshop leader are:

  • to prepare the moderation session properly [see Preparation],
  • to structure the process [see Moderation Cycle] and ensure the group’s time is managed correctly,
  • to work out the objectives of a moderation and to pursue them,
  • to visualise the process and record the results [see Post-Processing],
  • to offer the right moderation techniques to enable the process and ensure results.
  • to offer rules (on which the group agrees) or to work out rules with a group and ensure their smooth realization.
  • to enable equal opportunities for participation.
  • to deal with disturbances and difficult participants.
  • to create a productive and relaxed environment.

The better prepared and the more competent the moderator, the better the results will be. If you are not responsible for the Event Management you can focus your preparation purely on the moderation [see below].

After welcoming your participants and offering or developing a set of rules you start the moderation cycle [see below]. You open your tool box and take out the right moderation techniques by means of which you lead the group to results. The results are visualised and recorded [see Post-Processing].

These three sentences give an overview of the entire job. Sounds easy? Well, in fact every chapter of this book is about it. As soon as you are familiar with all of them you need experience, experience, experience. Good luck!

It takes twenty years to become an overnight success. 

Eddie Cantor (1892—1964)
American Singer and Comedian


Time keepig is one of the main tasks of a facilitator. This is a chance for you to prove your professionalism by sticking to this time limit.

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Basic Rules

A trusting environment is necessary to reach your workshop objectives. Therefore, participants need to feel secure. A set of basic rules and regulations helps overcome initial insecurity.

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The Art of Questioning

Who asks, leads. The method of questioning is the most powerful tool in the hands of a moderator. Questioning allows you to lead the discussion in certain directions.

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Karpman Drama Triangle

The Karpman Drama Triangle, first described by Stephen Karpman, is used in psychology and psychotherapy. Nonetheless, it’s useful to be aware of it.

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Six Balances in a group

An excellent workshop is always a balance of several factors — depending on the audience. Generally, you'll find six balances in a group.

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Group process

A group process is a chain of several steps a certain group goes through. It refers to their behaviour and interactions.

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Moderation Cycle

The model of a Moderation Cycle envisages six work phases, which build on each other.

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Roles of a Moderator

The roles of moderator or facilitator might change during one single programme. Know what's your job!

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