Presidential debate season is already underway. As a chamber or association leader, you may not be asked to moderate a presidential symposium. You may, however, find yourself in position to sponsor a local candidate debate, so let’s talk about some best practices if you are chosen to emcee those proceedings.
Moderating any type of panel can be a test of wills. Corralling political candidates adds another dimension to the challenge. It’s not easy to rein in a squad of healthy egos. The recent GOP debate moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, stand as proof. They encountered some rough sledding, often losing control of the event.
As you prepare to moderate a political skirmish in your community, how can you avoid the pitfalls?
- Require candidates to agree to a pledge regarding the ground rules, then enforce them during the debate.
- Stick to the agreed upon time limits. If someone blathers on too long, sound a not-too-subtle bell. If that doesn’t work, mute their microphone.
- Don’t let them get away with replying to questions with spin. Interrupt if they drone on with a canned speech. While they may use techniques like bridging, they must acknowledge the question and at least come within hailing distance of the issue raised.
- Be prepared to hold the audience at bay. Boos, cat calls, and other disrespectful disruptions are no-nos. It’s your duty to put a stop to them.
Remember that, as the moderator, you hold the keys. You must be primed to take charge and be firm when necessary.
Follow these tenets to make your debate a more informed colloquy. Not only does it lead to a more successful event, it also heightens your organization’s reputation.