• Friday, Sep 18, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:40 pm

The need for moderators

  • Published at 10:42 pm November 9th, 2019

Ahsan Akbar, one of the directors, opened by addressing the concerns of including more local moderators in panels with international members

The final day's panel, "The Art of Conversation," featuring the three directors of this year’s Dhaka Lit Fest, reflected on the roles and expectations of moderators in a session.

Ahsan Akbar, one of the directors, opened by addressing the concerns of including more local moderators in panels with international members.

He said: "There are many of you out there who can actually do this and we are not aware of it. So we'd like to reach out. This is the ninth edition of the Dhaka Lit Fest and we've been trying to improve each year. Not everything is perfect; it's a work in progress. And the way we can improve is by taking on more ideas and criticism onboard, but it has to be relevant."

Ahsan turned to Kazi Anis Ahmed and asked for his take on the subject.

Kazi Anis replied that he echoed Ahsan's sentiments and has received feedback about why some people were not invited to be panelists or moderators.

"It's not possible for us to know who can do what unless it's made known somehow. We do try to find out, we ask people who would be a good fit. A lot of panelists are selected, by us asking people who would be good for such and such topics. Even so, there are some people we cannot reach...

“...In almost all cases, no matter what the topic is or who the speakers are, a panel becomes extremely dull if the moderator is not good… I'm sure you've experienced that even at Dhaka Lit Fest. Sometimes in good faith we put a panel in someone's hand, and once it's on stage and ongoing, there's nothing we can do and we sit there and go 'oh dear!'

"Sometimes we give feedback to the moderators, and sometimes Bangladeshi moderators are not happy to receive feedback."

Kazi Anis stressed the importance of good moderation, noting that at the DLF, not all sessions are panels: some are interviews or one on one conversations. 

"The moderator's job is to facilitate… and they have to know something about the topic."

"Moderation is a lot of work, and most of it is invisible. There's what you do on stage, and what you do over the weeks before the festival. Not just what the speakers have said on the topic, but what other people have said too; there's a lot to research. What you do on stage is the final bit, but even then some who do good research, are not good speakers or not comfortable in front of a room. Some might be good speakers but they may not be good facilitators."

He continued: “The first thing a moderator must do is, prepare, prepare, prepare. Secondly, you write down questions and remember a structure. You have to be responsive and interactive. You have to have both the structure, and flexibility within the structure. You may not be able to give the speakers equal time, but you have to give them equal representation. You have to be mindful of time… A good moderator leaves 10-15 minutes for the end, because the audience is very important. A good moderator is a good listener."

Sadaf said: "We look for someone who can bring in a much wider canvas to the conversation... If you have one hour... when there's a very interesting topic or there are 3-4 people that you know have got a lot to say and you think you will give them 15 minutes or an hour, a very intense conversation, Q/A, and people feel they want more. 

”I think that you being a nobody in the conversation, you just facilitate it, it’s more than it seems.. It requires a discipline to be able to be curious enough about what everyone is saying, facilitate it, and get out of the speakers their best points, without anyone in the room knowing you are.

“One of my favorite sessions was Science Matters a few years ago. It had Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Lucy Hawking and Marcus du Sautoy talking about science. Hossain Zillur Rahman was moderating it. He did an excellent job. WIthin that 45 minutes, it covered science policy, science excitement, the latest happenings, and fictional science, and took questions.”

Ahsan further stressed the need to avoid devices during conversation, saying the most important people in his life keep their phones away when they converse. Kazi Anis called for more writing, articles, opinions, and critiques, in newspapers or anywhere else.

The Art of Conversation ended with a robust Q/A with the audience.

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