Watching skilled moderators practice their craft is something we at iModerate are privy to on a daily basis. And while to the untrained eye their job might seem easy, or their role negligible, we know better. Thankfully every four years, moderating takes center stage as a choice few facilitate perhaps the most crucial political discourse our country knows – the presidential debates.
While Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley, and Bob Schieffer are household names this time of year, their role as moderators is not so different from what their qualitative counterparts do on a daily basis. They set up the topic of discussion, take into consideration each participant’s unique personality, ask insightful questions, and find the delicate balance between leading a conversation and keeping things on track, on topic, and on time. And while a market research moderator may not explicitly deal with two individuals going head-to-head with opposing views, I have seen plenty of cases from behind the glass where that is exactly the situation they are dealing with.
So how important is a good moderator? How much skill does it actually take? For each presidential debate, one individual has been tasked with facilitating a heated, highest-of-high-stakes debate between arguably the most powerful man in the world and the person who thinks he should have that job. There are egos, agendas, and a multitude of sensitive and complex topics. The entire nation and much of the world is watching live, while social and traditional media are scrutinizing everything and anything. The moderator is clearly an integral part of the story, but has failed if he or she becomes too much of the story.
Take away the bright lights and big stakes, and the task is still extremely challenging. Just think about the tangibles and intangibles needed to do this job day in and day out. The confidence one must have, the communication skills they need, the empathy required, the psychological know-how that is called for, and the inquisitive nature they must possess.
Being a first-rate moderator is demanding, challenging and often thankless. With the final debate now in the books, I just hope everyone takes the opportunity, if only every four years, to appreciate their efforts and expertise the way I and my industry colleagues do on a daily basis.