Bettina Kerschbaumer: “Large group moderation without digital media? Unthinkable today!”

Bettina Kerschbaumer has been working for over ten years as a process moderator and event host in business situations. We talked to her about gains and difficulties with digital media and the impulse to unite people in divided times.

Bettina, thank you for meeting us today! You’re working as a moderator, not only at events but mostly in the business context for workshops and process guidance. What feelings to you have about digitalization in that environment?

As a workshop moderator for businesses, I noticed that people are rather divided about digital media. Part of them have this urge to work digitally – especially in fields such as planning or where they come together to develop something. You get the feeling that paper as a medium is a peculiarity to them. Another group of people, however, claim that they need just that: the physical experience of touching something non-virtual. I personally give both media a thumbs-up – they both have their advantages and are put to different use.

How can you as a moderator profit from new tools and devices?

There are two major fields of application where the moderator uses digital tools. One, for questioning an audience, and two, for organizing a constructive workshop.

In the first setting I pose a question to a large group of people and they return their feedback. This can be either a business or an event situation. The quick and easy way to include them would be something like: “Today, I’m not just talking at you, but with you! So why don’t you all take out your smartphones for a minute?” And that’s where for them the intriguing part begins.

If necessary, you can even collect qualitative feedback. Say, I work with sales people from different regions of the country. My initial question could be where they are from, and later I could tie their replies to the respective area. Provided, of course, there’s enough participants to guarantee anonymity.

The second setting would be a business workshop where the goal is to actually conceptualize and come up with solutions in a team.

The workshop question: Digital or pen-and-paper? Bettina Kerschbaumer has found that different people prefer different media. (Image: StockSnap)

What tools do you use in your moderations and trainings?

I work with several digital tools, such as feedbackr or SixSteps. SixSteps simulates a workshop situation with people working at their mobile devices. Simulated card questions have everyone note their idea or contribution down on the tablet. And then all answers appear as digital cards on a video wall. From there, you can easily cluster or prioritize topics, add notes, add headlines etc. That’s a new generation of digital instruments. In the end, you have faster and more direct results: work happens and evolves right where you’re at, in the group. Not to mention that protocols and reports are compiled and sent out much faster.

However, SixSteps would be overkill for a vague enquiry on a large audience. Just imagine the hassle with everyone setting up the software first! I like feedbackr for this, because it gives you a good impression of the overall mood or expectations without being too compulsory. Both of these are serving a different purpose.

What are the major opportunities concerning moderation and training with digital tools?

Participants experience your event or workshop differently – that is a huge advantage. Including supportive digital media caters to people’s “gaming urge” and enhances their attention. Another advantage is the digitalization process running in the background. In terms of process evaluation, it makes a lot of sense to record and save data throughout conception.

And what would you say are difficulties?

It’s getting difficult once you invite people to work in groups or task forces using a digital system. They can’t very well split the screen! If you intend to do that, you need a proper concept on how you’re going to walk them through the process. Considering the host cannot be everywhere at once, people require certain specifics beforehand. This I have found to be a major point to consider. Another thing to consider would be, of course, technical compatibility.

How so?

Among an audience of one hundred people, there are always ten percent who are using an old browser version. That’s when the fun begins! (laughs) The first person speaks up: “Excuse me, but it’s not working for me.” As a moderator, you’re navigating through the room – which is noisy because everyone’s busy with the tool – and you are headed for the person who spoke up. But then the next one has a problem. And another one. To be honest, these are moments of breaking a sweat for me.

Image: © Bettina Kerschbaumer

So would you say there are areas in which digital tools make no sense, after all?

If you pose a question that does not necessarily require everyone to reply, you’re covered. It’s great for getting an overall impression. But for business moderation, you have to be careful that your results are representative. I recently hosted a marketing conference and opened with the question: “What do you expect from today’s agenda?” If ten percent of the participants can’t reply because of technical troubles, you don’t have a strictly significant result.

One last question about yourself: why moderation?

Because it is the connecting element between people – whether in business units or at big scale events. And we are living in divided times, aren’t we? After years of experience as a workshop and process moderator, I got into “Großgruppenmoderation” (Large Group Moderation) which is now a focus of mine. I wanted to take what works in small groups and apply it to larger groups as well.

My ambition was to set the stage for a large number of people developing something together. And for that digital media are amazing, of course. I’d go as far as to say, large group moderation without the aid of digital tools is unthinkable today.

Bettina, thank you very much for your time and your insights!

Bettina Kerschbaumer developed a passion for moderation in her 13-year-long career with Wirtschaftskammer Österreich. In 2007 she became self-employed as One main focus of her work are large group moderations. Her vision: supporting a high-quality exchange and development for businesses.