A lot has been bantered about the media this week about Lester Holt and his role moderating the Clinton-Trump debate. I am choosing this topic because as public relations professionals many times we are put in the role of the moderator with our clients, possibly navigating between two opposing points of view, executives who disagree or journalists/clients who can be at odds. What can we learn from a good moderator?
Lester Holt carried himself with the gravitas and finesses of the great newsman that he is earlier this week during the Clinton-Trump debate. He was a terrific moderator, asking good questions, challenging statements that stretched the truth and those that were out-and-out lies. Holt has been wrongly criticized by Trump over the past few days for being biased. I worked with Holt for many years when he was with WCBS-TV/Channel 2 and then WNBC-TV/Channel 4 in New York. He was a fabulous street reporter and we did a number of stories together. He is well-read, balanced, intelligent, and maybe most important, a great listener.
This last point, I believe is critical to being a good moderator –listening. I don’t mean hearing, because most people don’t have a hearing problem, but many have a listening challenge. Good moderators carefully listen to both sides of a story. They asked pointed questions that get each side to deal in specifics, not platitudes. They challenge, respectfully, statements not factually correct. When I say respectfully, it is because the moderator is not the principal in a debate or discussion, but rather just the guy in the middle, trying to get the facts and issues on the table so the parties –either principals themselves or the audience –can find solutions through information. The moderator’s job is always difficult, but it is even harder when the principals are larger than life personas.
So hats off to Les. You did an amazing job!