October 15

Event-tip: add a sidekick to your online or hybrid event.

event planning tip

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Add a second moderator, online moderator, or ‘sidekick’ to your interactive online or hybrid event.

Through the chat, a polling system as Sli.do or Mentimeter or via social media like Twitter, the audience asks questions, gives comments and answer polls. If done right, it provokes a lot of input. This is important for your event. People become engaged, involved and attentive. And this input spices up the discussion. It fires up the speakers. It steers into more relevance for he audience. Their voices become heard. Speakers let go of their pre written statements. They are reminded they don’t speak for and to each other, but to your audience and speak to them directly.

But for the moderator it is very hard do this alone. Listening to the conversation ánd looking at the screen means you do both of them less attentive. That they are listening with one ear and looking with only one eye.

A second moderator to filter the questions, comments and Slido polls from the audience.

Therefore it is often much better if a second moderator (or team) filters out questions and summarises the comments and mood of the audience. And put forward the most important/funny/controversial/relevant questions and comments. And starts the next question or poll.

The main moderator can now fully focus on the conversation, debate or discussion and running the event to schedule.

Rogier and Beatriz hosted the 2021 ALDE party conference. In the first panel, Rogier acted as side-kick to Beatriz. See this example how to audience opinions are used to ‘tickle’ the speakers, provoke a reaction and have them react to the audience.

Put your online moderator in the spotlight

This can be done behind the screen and forwarded to the moderator through a screen and/or an in-ear. But often it is much much nicer to put the sidekick on stage. Give them a desk and a microphone. Let them give summaries, encourage more interaction and interrupt if needed because the audience has a question that is now relevant or there is important input on this issue. This way you cut out the part where someone has to write it, the moderator has to read it and then you hope they understand it fully.

Give the sidekick a dedicated role: the liaison with the audience.

But not only is it more efficient, it gives a also a new vibe to the event. The sidekick becomes the liaison with the audience. They feel represented through the sidekick. And specifically encouraged to participate. And it gives more dynamic into the event. The sidekick can even interrupt the discussion if needed.

In the second discussion, Beatriz acted as sidekick. Here is an example how she gathers, summarises and brings in the opinions, questions and mood of the audience to make sure those are included in the discussion.

Give the sidekick a dedicated spot

Show this role in how you position the sidekick. It can be as an extra panel member on stage or at the table. But often it feels best to give them their own desk, with a laptop and a screen with the poll results or questions behind them. It is clear that they have a different role. Because they have some disantce to the panel, the audience feels they are more close to them. Having them stand gives them a more dynamic image. Give them a bell or blinking light to have them intervene. And make sure the moderator and the sidekick can have easy eye contact .

Cyber moderator: important for online, crucial for hybrid

This cyber moderator is maybe even more important in a hybrid setting. In an online event it is not unusual for the moderator to operate a laptop and look at a screen. In a live setting this is a bit weird. And the moderator has more to do in the venue: monitor the mood, the energy and choreography. And be all ear to the physical voices in the room.

Every hero needs a sidekick, not a mini me

Who is great as sidekick?

Well first of all it should be someone who is

  1. quick to get the point and is able to phrase that in few – yet precise – words.
  2. Wants to stir up to the discussion, not push their own opinion
  3. make the audience feel as their liaison (warmth)
  4. Shines on stage (energy)

And: it should be somebody complementing the moderator. They should have chemistry, but also not be Batman & Batman. But Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman or The Joker. A different vibe, gender, expertise, stance: it brings diversity into your discussion.

Rogier Elshout as co-moderator fully focussed on interaction with the audience

Hire an external, professional co-moderator or choose someone from your own organisation as sidekick?

Then consider: who?

A professional moderator has the advantage to have experience in the format. They know how to engage the audience, filter and what to look for. And gives the image of independence/neutrality.

But someone in you own organisation knows the topic, the audience (maybe even to an individual level), the lingo and viewpoint of the organisation. And shows that your organisation is capable, involved, audience focussed, daring and knowledgable. It is a good opportunity to showcase yourself

The question is: what does the event need? What is it that you want to show?

In most cases we advise to take someone from your own organisation.

There is almost always someone willing and perfect for it. Technical knowledge is not important: these systems are super easy. Also we prepare carefully: we don’t (only )improvise our polls and questions, we have carefully drafted the flow of the event along these lines. We practise with them, work together in preparation. Help them feel comfortable with crowds and camera’s. So if – strategy wise – it is smart to put someone from your organisation on stage and there is someone with not too much stage freight: we can make that work. And if not: we can always bring the professional outsider.

This article is written by Anna Gumbau & Rogier Elshout who regularly are each others side-kick.

About the author 

Rogier Elshout

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