Friday, May 3, 2024

All things for moderation.


Well, well well, it's festival time again with a mixture of panel appearances, moderating and interviewing and all the excitement and uncertainty that can bring.

It never fails to amaze me the spectrum of good and bad panellists… well more the excellent and the completely awful. You can tell, right from the get-go, the people who are well prepared and comfortable doing the job of moderation. (they tend to have notes for one thing)

 And by completely awful (I'm talking as a moderator who once forgot to introduce the 4th member of the panel! I had turned over 2 pages in my notebook instead of one.)

                                                                        Ms LaPlante

Over the years I've noticed, more than once, a very experienced panellist subtly take over the conversation when the moderator had done no work whatsoever and just sat and stared into space, ignoring the huge gaping silences as people stared out windows and scratched their bottoms. The moderator was thinking of the next question to ask, and time went on, so the panellist, quietly intervened. It was done so beautifully that I don't think anybody noticed that the moderator became a panellist. I did congratulate the panellist later on a job well done and he pointed out that one panellist had not said a word and they were fifteen minutes in.

I do tend to read the books of the panellists and I have a good look at their websites see what I can find out about them on social media. One of mine this year lives on a riverboat so he’s getting a question about that!

 I find reading the books on kindle leaves a blank spot in my process because I don't have the visual reference of the cover of the book in my head, and very often I don't have the author’s face in my mind. I have to make a conscious effort to think panellist C wrote book 3. I also try to get to the book room and see the cover beforehand.

And then there's the slightly obtuse way the panels can be brought together, and I totally understand why the organisers might do that. There’s so many people and they can't possibly read every book and think this book suits that subject.  I'm moderating a panel about PLOP which stands for ‘private lives of protagonist’… well it does in my head. From the books I've read only mine, and one other really has the detective having a private life that informs the narration. The others don’t which leads to a good question. And maybe a conversation about having a private life or not. What do readers like?  But then as I look back on the Amazon reviews of the previous books in the series of my panellists, there is a huge back story there and the story arc has reached a conclusion by the time the series gets to the book I’ve been reading.

All interesting stuff

And saying anything in public is a minefield these days. Just one slightly off comment and you could be locked in a cupboard for the rest of your life. There was a famous incident at Crime fest when the moderator, a very funny one, made a humorous wee comment and one of the panellists got offended. The moderator then asked the audience if what she had said was offensive or not. Some of the audience got up and walked out. It was a glib off the cuff comment -one of those things that is both true to some and offensive to others. It caused, what we would call, a huge stooshie. Poor Adrian.

Then I've been on a panel where the topic was totally ignored. It was about the weather. The panellists were from very cold countries, hot countries, wet countries. All of those things determine how bodies found in open air are treated but that conversation didn't happen until someone from the audience asked the question.


 She needs no intro!

A good moderator has to be in charge. Panellists that are too chatty have to be kept quiet and panellists that are too quiet have to have their say. And then there's the issue of the participating modulator what is a slightly strange job but if done properly can really be a good way of self-promotion.

Then there’s the me me me me authors who will promote their book no matter what the question is. Somebody might say ‘my character is allergic to shellfish’ and me me me butts in and says, ‘well my character likes to eat burgers and on page 174 of my wonderful new novel blah blah blah.’ This is often accompanied by waving the book above their head.  I don't think it endears them to the audience. There are ways to make the book sound fascinating without actually shoving it down people's throats- although that could be a solution to the over chatty panellist.

The best feeling in the world is being a participating modulator and doing hardly anything because the panellists are all chatting away, keeping on the topic, all being engaging, often being self-effacing and being funny.

I’m on a panel on Thursday – the first one I think- and moderating on Friday at 9 am. So, for my blog next week I think it will just be pictures of me and some panellists looking confused or hungover. Or maybe being wonderfully witty and entertaining. Let’s hope for the latter.



  1. Ha! This is so very true, on every level, Caro. Have a blast, can't wait to hear the post-mortem.

  2. NINE on a Friday Morning? Oh, well, that's why the good Lord invented coffee. No matter, Caro, I wouldn't miss a performance of yours for the world, and I'm sure Michael, Stanley, Ovidia, and Zoë feel the same way. See you soon.

  3. All very true! Will try to be there 9am Friday too!