Tina Berry presented the findings from AQR’s Moderating Excellence Initiative in London this October. The key learnings, from examining the detailed behaviour of six peer-nominated moderators, were that: rapport skills are critical, good moderators are sensitive to the needs of the group and they frame the outcome, while group trust gets good information, etc. To think, however, that you had heard this before would be to commit a gross injustice. This fantastic work deserves deeper examination and wider exposure.

Like all great research, Tina’s presentation resonated at some intuitive level. Now we are all more consciously aware and for that we should thank the team for their work.

The need for moderator authenticity shone through the findings. Successful moderators believe in the process, they believe in their client’s objective and the role of research to solve it. They respect their group and they merge themselves into it with little compromise. An observation afterwards was that this explains why moderators are vulnerable to role strain once you add in corporate and managerial responsibilities; it’s hard to remain authentic with the additional pressures these bring.

While recognising a diversity of approaches, all of which were equally valid, the Initiative has identified four styles of moderation.

Succinctly describing the skills of successful moderators demonstrated that all of us need to draw on this diversity.

The audience clearly identified with this segmentation and the subsequent discussion highlighted that we must guard against becoming too fixed in our own styles. This suggests that there is immense value for all of us, however experienced, in both observing others at work and seeking feedback on our own styles if we are to stay fresh.

Personally, this also crystallised just why I enjoy international work so much, in viewing other moderators around the world I have been enjoying the process as much as the content.

We may all feel we know a good moderator when we see one. Now, however, we have a new level of insight into the processes that create excellence and for the first time make it replicable. This should prove invaluable both in training new moderators and developing existing skills.

The AQR should be congratulated for undertaking this work and there should be a big thank you to the nominated individuals for putting themselves under such scary scrutiny.

As with any research, it is after the presentation that the real challenge begins. To think otherwise would be a mistake. There was great debate on the night about how to take this forward and much discussion about what AQR should do next. For those privileged to be present you heard it first hand, let this insight empower you — how are you going to use this to improve your moderation?