How to moderate roundtable discussions? (7 advice)

I would have liked to find such an article by last week, when I had to moderate a roundtable discussion for the first time, when the touched subject was “Anti-discrimination Law – a benefit or a danger for Moldova”. So, I could have behaved differently in some situations. But, since the event has already taken place, I made an evaluation and I will write this article to present the lessons I took. I suppose they will be useful for others too, and if not, at least I will come back to this article again when I will have to moderate a roundtable discussion again. So, here are the lessons I have learnt…

1. Prepare great questions

Begin to prepare a list with questions you are going to ask the roundtable speakers at least a week before. Choose 7–10 most important questions from the list, and then, from these 10 questions choose 3 decisive, that you consider crucial for the roundtable discussion and if these questions are not answered, that means that the roundtable failed. And also take into account a good advice given by Apostle Paul to his disciple, Timothy, that can be applied well when you get ready for a roundtable:

But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23)(NASB)

2. Define the participation rules in the beginning

It is very necessary to define the clear subject from the beginning, but it is also important to define the rules for the participants, that have to be the following:

  1. To give definite answers to questions

  2. To exclude unnecessary details

  3. To not deviate from the subject

  4. To use words that are clear for the public (sometimes participants use professional terms so that they may not be understood, but to seem that they know the subject and they answered well)

  5. If speakers will exceed these rules, the moderator can stop or interrupt them.

3. Ask the explanation of the terms

As I have mentioned above, the speakers can use professional terms in order to avoid giving the answer, but to seem as they have answered. When you do not understand a term or when you suppose that the public don’t understand that certain term, interrupt the speaker and ask the explanation.

4. Insist on getting full answers

Some speakers answer using long phrases, use some examples, images, etc, but, in fact, this is a way to avoid the answer they had to give and the public get no clear answer to the question. That’s why, as a moderator, insist on getting a clear answer to the question the moderator or the audience have addressed the speaker.

5. Re-define the statements

Some speakers use tactics that they say something, but they present it so differently, using such terms to make people understand they wanted to say something else or they let people understand what each of them wanted. Most often, speakers do this to hide the true intention they have. That’s why, as a moderator, try to be attentive, and, in the end, after the speaker has told his opinion concerning a certain problem, define all his statements once again to see if this is what he wanted to say. In this way, you will not let “everyone hear what they wanted”, but to hear what has been said.

6. Don’t let yourself deviate from the subject

Once I have been invited to a roundtable organized in a room from the Free International University from Moldova, where I was invited to present what the Bible says about homosexuality. After I showed that that was a sinful practice condemned by God, the speaker who was on the side of a homosexual and lesbian organization used a crafty method. He began to enumerate the negative phenomena from the church and he did that for more than 20 minutes until he was stopped by the moderator. When it was my turn to speak, I revealed his tactics and I said: “Yes, this is true, there are many problems in the church that provoke pain, but today we came to discuss about homosexuality. Let us go back to the subject and continue our discussion.” When one of the speakers wants to lead the discussion to say bad things about others, don’t allow this.

7. Use the clepsydra

I noticed that there are few people who know to speak shortly on the subject. That’s why, I bought a clepsydra that I will use from now on for round-tables. In this way, I will assume the right to limit the time a speaker answers a question and, if the answer needs more time, I will add some extra time, only if the speaker really needs more time to give a full answer.

Translated by Felicia Djugostran