Clubhouse Moderation — A beginner’s guide
23 Feb 2021
Clubhouse is a new audio-only social network that has been gaining huge momentum lately. Since joining, I have been attracted to its unique format. In Clubhouse, there is no video, no text communication, no visual, only voice. You join different rooms that are part podcasts and part group calls. The audience can raise their hands and join the speakers on ‘stage’. I have joined many meaningful discussions from startup investment to company culture to personalities.
During a recent discussion on the topic of introversion, a group of people wanted to learn how to be a better moderator. Many introverts felt awkward in speaking up and running discussions. Being an introvert myself, I felt I could help. Drawing from my experience in interviewing people and running panel discussions in professional events, I put together the following simple guideline for anybody who wants to start moderating Clubhouse rooms.
Another reason that I want to put this guide together is that I love the current culture in Clubhouse. I want to encourage more moderators to run rooms in a structured, polite, and civil manner. Only through structure and politeness could we have deep, meaningful conversations.
Before the call
After deciding on a topic, coordinate with 1 to 4 other speakers ahead of the call. You all should agree to a rough outline of the meeting flow ahead of time. Such as how many points/sub-topics to discuss, if you want to have the audience join the discussion during the meeting or only during FAQ time toward the end, etc.
Next, you need to decide if you want to run a formal panel discussion or casual discussion. If you are interviewing a group of industry professionals, you want to run it formally. Otherwise, I found that causal discussion can turn into meaningful conversation if moderate well.
Decide on the format
- Interview style panel discussion
- Free flow, audience-driven discussion
Schedule the call up to a week ahead of time. Ask the other speakers to help promote the call.
Start the call: Opening Statement
It’s important to start the room correctly and set the right tone. Prepare a short opening statement to state why this room is created. State what you want to achieve and what the audience may learn.
The opening statement should cover the following points:
- Why is this call scheduled? What prompted you to schedule the call? Was there any background or story?
- The topic itself. You should elaborate a little on the topic. At this point, the audience has seen the title that you have given to the call. Are there any details you can provide?
- The expected length of the call. Some calls on Clubhouse last for hours. I recommend giving your audience an expectation of time commitment.
- Structure of the call. Can the audience raise their hands right away? Should they wait till the end?
“Hi, thank you for joining. We are here to talk about workplace meetings. I found most workplace meetings to be a big waste of time. I want to have this discussion to share and learn how to effectively run meetings. We are a group of small business owners so we are discussing company meetings that typically happen in small groups. This call will run for an hour. Feel free to raise your hand at any time. We want to have an interactive conversation.”
Introduce the speakers
Once you have laid out the ground rules, you want to let the speakers introduce themselves. Call on the speakers one by one.
“Let’s hear from our speakers, John, why don’t you start by introducing yourself…”
Start the conversation
Ask an open-ended question to start the conversation.
“Alright, let’s start the discussion. I want to start by asking if you feel like meetings are a waste of time. Judy, what do you think?”
As the moderator, you have to control the cadence of the call. In your first few calls, I recommend sticking with a more formal rhythm. Every conversation should bounce between you to one other speaker.
Imagine playing multiway tennis between you and all other speakers. You stand on one side of the court and the other speakers are on the other side. You serve the ball to one of the speakers by asking a leading question, the speaker receives the ball by starting to speak. Once the speaker finishes speaking, the ball bounces back to you. From there, you have a choice to serve the ball in a few different directions:
- Keep the conversation on the same point
- Start a new point
- Move to a new speaker/audience
- Reset / Call for action
Keep the conversation on the same point
The first way you can respond to a speaker is to give a general comment or ask a follow-up question. Your goal is to open up the conversation in the same general direction.
“That’s a good point, Jane. We also have that problem in our company. Anybody here had a similar experience?”
You can also try to quickly summarize the key points.
“Exactly. So what Jane just talked about is the importance of agenda setting. Without a good agenda, meetings tend to wonder in many different directions and end up wasting time for everybody.”
You can then ask a follow-up question.
“So what is the best way to set an agenda? Peter, any thoughts?”
Starting a new point / Changing direction
At some point, you would want to move the conversation forward. Assuming you have prepared the general outline of the discussion ahead of time. You should have a few key subtopics that you want to touch on. Simply state that you want to change the direction of the discussion.
“Alright, let’s move on. Let’s discuss how long meetings should last. Should meetings be 15 minutes long? Or an hour long? Anybody want to share?”
Here, in addition to moving the conversation in a different direction, we are also opening up the discussion to whoever wants to receive. Beware, if nobody speaks up within a few seconds, you should jump in and serve the ball to a particular speaker.
“Anybody? John, what do you think. Is an hour too long for meetings?”
Use the mute button to indicate the intention to speak
As you bounce conversation between different speakers, make sure you ensure equal speaking opportunities to the speakers. Especially your co-hosts. You want to give room to let them chime in when they want to. You can communicate to your co-hosts ahead of time that if they want to speak up, just unmute their mic. When you see that, you can call on them and let them speak.
“Chris, do you want to chime in? I see that you have unmuted.”
Once your co-hosts start to use the mute button to communicate intent, the other speakers will catch on and follow along. This will make your job easier as you will know who to call next.
Invite the Audience to the stage
One of the coolest ways Clubhouse creates interaction between speakers and audience is the ability to move audiences on to the stage if they raise their hands.
Start by calling on to the audience.
“If you want to share, or to ask a question, please feel free to raise your hand.”
People usually raise their hands when a speaker is speaking. You can let them join the stage. When joining the stage, their mics are unmuted. Most people have the courtesy to mute themselves while others are speaking. If they don’t, you can exercise the power of the moderator and mute them.
Once you have an audience on stage, you have a new set of people that you can serve the speaking ball to. When a speaker is done speaking, you can call on one of the audience to start sharing or ask their questions.
Manage the audience queue
The audience queue is not an official feature of Clubhouse. Most calls adopt this way of managing calls out of necessity. When the audience joins on to the stage, he/she joins the queue. As the moderator, you have to manage the queue. You should call on the audience one by one.
Simply announce that it is their turn to speak:
“Next, we have Anna. Hi Anna, it’s your turn. Go ahead”
When the audience finishes speaking, you again should give a brief comment and invite other co-hosts to give feedback. If the audience asks a question, you can ask one or more co-host to answer.
You can choose to keep the audience on the stage or move them back to the audience list.
Reset the room
As people could come in and out of your room at any time, not everyone was in the room when you introduced the topic in the beginning. Therefore, it is important to periodically reset the room.
Resetting the room is like re-opening the call. Your reset should cover the following:
- A short version of the open statement
- Reiterate the last point of discussion
- Ask the audience to join the discussion
“If you just joined, we are talking about workplace meetings today. Steven just shared great tips on how to effectively structure your meetings. Please raise your hand if you want to share or ask questions.”
Controlling bad behavior
As the moderator, it is your responsibility to ensure speakers and audience have a good time and a meaningful conversation. If someone is not behaving, you need to exercise your right to control the situation. If people are talking over each other, you should start by muting them.
“Joe, I’m sorry but I have to mute you. Please understand that talking over each other does not help anyone.”
If the situation continues, you should remove them from the stage.
When you are enjoying a meaningful conversation, time flies. It’s important to not let yourself forget about time management. 10 to 15 minutes toward the end of the call, you should announce that the call is about to end. You can signal for the last 2–3 questions. Leave about 5 minutes to actually close the call.
If you are running a casual conversation without a set end time, you may still want to stop the call at some point. You can ask the speakers how long do they think the call should last and set an end time at that point.
“Alright, I love this conversation. We have been talking for more than 2 hours now. How long do you guys want to keep on going? Shall we end in 15 minutes?”
Call for Action
Toward the end of the call, you should add a call for action when you reset the room. Actions such as:
- Follow the speakers and each other on Clubhouse
- How to follow-up with you and other speakers outside of Clubhouse
- Any other calls from you and other speakers you want to promote
When formally close the call, you want to ask if any of your co-hosts want to add any final comment.
“I hope you have learned as much as I have today. Let’s see if any of our speakers have any final thoughts.”
This allows your co-hosts to share any closing thoughts. You can also allow them to do some personal promotion, such as how to connect with them.
Clubhouse is a great place to have meaningful discussions. Let’s promote a structured and professional culture. This article is created as a result of a room called “How to be a moderator as an introvert”. I will periodically start rooms on this topic. Feel free to follow me on Clubhouse @szewong.