As people submitted proposals to the conference system they were asked if they were willing to moderate a session. Some people had no recollection of this step in the process and were surprised when I contacted them to see if they were still willing to serve as moderators. But many were willing and excited to serve in this role. I think this volunteer process was good, but unfortunately missed those who did not indicate interest in giving a presentation and who may have benefitted by playing this role. In making assignments, I primarily looked at association membership since, as you recall, oral assignments were made by association. Because people had submitted presentations I also had a sense of what their interests were and tried to use these in making assignments as well.
When I met with the committee prior to completion of the assignments we agreed that it might be beneficial to provide a moderators guide to all moderators. This was intended to increase confidence of those who may have been playing this role for the first time and to provide consistency since each of the participating associations has their own culture around presentations. One of the committee members took responsibility for developing the guide. The committee reviewed and approved it for use.
The initial communication with the moderator was simply a reminder of their previous indication of interest in serving in the role and to check their availability for a particular session. If they agreed to serve, they were sent the session time, topics and abstracts and a copy of the moderators guide. The presenters were copied on this so they were aware of the expectations, and many moderators and presenters began communication by email immediately, introducing themselves and preparing for the session. Closer to the time of the conference, the biographical information provided by the presenters in the submission system, was sent to the moderators, again with a copy to the presenters. In the email, the source of the information was provided and presenters were encouraged to share additional information that they thought would be of interest to the audience. At this time presenters and moderators were also aware of time constraints so they were also able to prioritize information to provide maximum presentation time.
These communications were very well received by both presenters and moderators. Many individuals expressed appreciation for this information once we arrived at the conference. There also seemed to be more of a sense of community and collaboration – people were aware of the roles and the importance of those roles. They also knew each other, at least virtually, so looked forward to seeing each other in person. This created a very positive atmosphere for the educational programs. In addition, it gave moderators and presenters ownership in this aspect of the conference. There are always going to be a few things that don’t go quite as planned, but these individuals were empowered with the committee members to do what needed to be done to make the program run as smoothly as possible.
Final communication with moderators followed the conference. The message included a thank you, but also asked for participant numbers, observed movement between sessions and asked for their recommendations regarding number of presenters or other concerns that might be addressed in the final document. Nearly 50% responded. Many seemed extremely pleased to have been asked and this provided a nice closure to their activity. It may have increased responses to some extent to have let them know this email would be coming.
Recommendations for the future:
- I liked the way moderators were assigned. If the conference moved toward topical tracks, moderators might be assigned by the committees that make the selections and could moderate multiple sessions.
- Communication with moderators and presenters is important and worth the time it takes. Make it happen!
If you have questions or would like further information about this process or the final report, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.