OK, patience is a virtue. And, as we’ve all agreed (although I’m still waiting for some feedback), patience is an extremely valuable attribute for a good process and group facilitator. But there are other facilitation situations where showing too much patience will be counterproductive and unprofessional. I’m talking about journalistic facilitation. You know: when you have 4 or 5 important people sitting in a semi-circle – a so-called “panel discussion” – around you. You know: where you ask a question and 4 or 5 answers reverberate around the room which have absolutely nothing to do with the question asked. You know: where 4 or 5 people are battling against each other for the chance to voice the message tracks spelled out by their PR departments. Yepp. That’s where a touch of impatient behaviour certainly becomes a facilitator.
A journalistic facilitation (or moderation) can not allow panelists to use the floor to say what they had planned to say. In fact, we should jump in and redirect it as soon as it starts to swerve away from the relevant content, from the question at hand and from important facts. We will often be dealing with people with an agenda. With a lobby. Maybe with the need to use their few moments of air-time to try and gain some serious brownie points. And it’s our job as facilitators to step in and insist – yes, really put our tender feet down – that our questions are answered. But where do we get our legitimacy from? How come it’s suddenly OK for a facilitator (or moderator) of a panel discussion to become impatient and start interrupting Very Important People? The answer is pretty simple. It’s not that we know better. It’s not that we’re excited about “yes, but-ing” a VIP. It’s not even because we’re having a bad day. It’s because we have to act as advocates of our audience; of the real audience.
Our audience don’t want to hear the same paroles they unfortunately have to read in uncritical newspapers or in many of the TV talk shows. They want to know the truth behind the PR. And they want to know “What now?” or “What else?” or “What could be alternatives?” And, above all, it should become clear how the panelists stand in relation to each other. How they could imagine using their combined strength and power to solve problems, change the world and other such bagatelles. Panelists are often all too quick to say what their colleagues are doing wrong, but less in what they would do differently, or how they could work together.
Perhaps an impatient facilitator can help jolt panelists into thinking outside of their (PR) boxes and give rise to an exciting, interesting and relevant panel discussion. For panelists and audience. For a little longer that the 60 minutes on stage. And to allow the power of VIPs to unfold constructively and for the good of mankind:
- “Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.” Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of US (1856 – 1924) in a letter to Mary A. Hulbert, September 21, 1913