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Branding Room Only Interview with Nicole Lester Arrindell: Changing the World In Moderation

Interview with Nicole Lester Arrindell
Interview with Nicole Lester Arrindell
Branding Room Only Interview with Nicole Lester Arrindell: Changing the World In Moderation
Nicole Lester Arrindell is an attorney, trusted strategic advisor, TEDx Speaker, sought after moderator and thought partner. She serves as Government Relations Counsel and Chief of Staff to the Chief Legal Officer at Equitable, a Fortune 500 financial services company. Nicole also serves as President-Elect of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association in New York City. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
  • Nicole and Paula’s tips, tricks, and best practices for moderation
  • How a moderator’s preparation can determine the panel’s success
  • How to bring your authentic self to panel moderation
  • The PACE acronym and how it can help moderators

In this episode:

Being a moderator is a pivotal role to showcase your knowledge and skills and expertise of the panelists. While it may seem easy on the outside, the process can be challenging if not done strategically and thoughtfully. Moderating requires preparation and social tact, balancing the needs of the audience and the panelists. The best moderators learn from experience, but there are plenty of helpful tips to aid in learning. So what should you know to prepare for your next moderating opportunity? In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula T. Edgar is joined by Nicole Lester Arrindell to discuss moderation of panels at conferences and events. They break down the most important tips and best ways to prepare when moderating. They also talk about pre-conference communication, synthesis, professionalism, and how to use the opportunity of moderating to boost your personal brand.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Episode Highlights

00:00:00 Introduction to the Podcast

00:00:37 Introducing the Guest: Nicole Lester Arrindell

00:01:52 Nicole’s Perspective on Personal Branding

00:03:16 Getting to Know Nicole: Personal Insights

00:07:07 Nicole’s Career Journey and Brand Building

00:13:01 The Importance of Fellowships and Professional Development

00:15:41 The Art of Moderation: Impact on Personal Brand

00:17:11 PACE: A Framework for Effective Moderation

00:24:05 Preparation Strategy for Moderation

00:25:34 Preparation for Panel Moderation

00:25:47 Researching Panelists and Pre-Panel Prep Calls

00:28:10 Importance of Pronouncing Panelists’ Names Correctly

00:29:32 Pre-Panel Communication and Setting Norms

00:30:37 Panelist Rules and Relationship Building

00:34:15 Moderating as a Personal Branding Strategy

00:41:02 Managing Q&A Sessions

00:47:01 Concluding the Panel Discussion

00:49:55 Final Thoughts on Panel Moderation

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Hi, everyone. It’s Paula Edgar, the host of Branding Room Only, where I bring on industry leaders and influencers to talk about how they’re using their skills, their talents, and their experiences to create and amplify their personal brands. And of course, to talk about all the things they’ve learned about other people and their personal brands as well.

Today, I’m very excited because I have a guest who is not just a guest, she’s a friend and also a frequent collaborator. We have with us today Nicole Lester Arrindell, who is Government Relations Counsel and Chief of Staff to the Chief Legal Officer at Equitable. She’s also the President Elect of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association in New York City.

Nicole Lester Arrindell serves as an attorney, she’s a Trusted Strategic Advisor, a TEDx Speaker, a sought after moderator and thought partner, and professionally, again, I just told you where she serves as the Government Relations Counsel and Chief Staff to the Chief Legal Officer at Equitable, a Fortune 500 financial services company.

And as a civic and community leader, Nicole serves as president elect of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association in New York City. She’s also an adjunct law professor, a class parent, and a mentor to young professionals and law students. Nicole, welcome to the branding room.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Thank you, Paula. Thank you for having me on your podcast.

You know, of course, it’s a pleasure to chat with you all the time, but especially on your venture. So congrats again on doing this. I know it was on your bucket list.

Paula Edgar: It was, and Nicole is a frequent person to tell me what’s up next thing on your bucket list, and I appreciate that from her very much. So, Nicole, we are in the branding room. Of course, I have to ask you, what does branding mean to you? What is personal branding? Tell me how you, define it.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Well, I mean, I’m sitting with you, the person who like exudes personal branding, a person who professionally talks to people about personal branding, and then you go out and do a whole podcast on personal branding.

So if anything, I mean, I don’t know what I could say that’s going to be better than how you just exemplify it. But I think by using you as an example, I could say, When I think of personal branding, I think of it as an action. It’s an intention. You are creating your personal brand. This is an evolving thing. What you’re known for and how others view you – it’s going to be reflected in your actions, your words, your social media, your friends, even the groups and organizations you associate with. So just like the brands of cars people like, shoes people buy, beverages, handbags. There’s a certain feeling that you get when you have those things. There’s a certain taste, a certain look.

And you too, your values, your authenticity, your talents, your weaknesses, they’re all visible to people. And people are going to walk away feeling a certain way when they’re in your presence or when they think about you. So that’s what comes to mind for me with personal branding.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I love that. I love it. It’s action. It’s action. It’s action. All right. So describe yourself in three words or short phrases.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Three words, I’m a networker, I am a leader, I am action oriented, I like to get stuff done.

Paula Edgar: It’s funny because you were saying the words and I, the, I had a word, I was like, I’m gonna say this if she doesn’t say this and my word was activator.

So you, so you hit, you hit it, I didn’t have to be like, hey, you hit it because the action is definitely something that I associate with you. Okay, what’s your favorite quote?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: So people who know me know I love to read leadership development books. I read biographies. I listen to lots and lots of music.

So when it comes to quotes, I’m like that girl on that show that had sticky notes all over the place with quotes all over them. That’s like honestly me. And I have journals full of quotes. But one in particular that I love is by Paolo Coelho. He’s the author of a book called The Alchemist. It was a really great book that came out in like the late 80s.

“The world is changed by your example. Not by your opinion”. So when I hear that, I think, take action, do something. People sit around, everybody has opinions, but not everybody acts. And that’s how you’re gonna change the world. And as an attorney, being a person who went to law school, that was what my motivating factor was, was like, how can I make change?

How can I make impact? So those words are, are one of many different quotes that I would say, is one of my favorites.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I also love the, the shout out to Gabrielle Union and being Mary Jane and the sticky notes.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: You got the reference.

Paula Edgar: I did. I did indeed. and since she didn’t bring it up, well, maybe you’ll bring it up in as many minutes.

So we’ll see. Cause I’m going to definitely swing back to something else. What is your hype song, Nicole?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Oh, well, yes. I know you must be talking about the fact that like, I love music. I am a music lover. People know this about me. hype songs, I have many, but one in particular, in fact, one I played before even coming onto your podcast today, The World Is Yours by Nas.

Why is this my hype song? Let me explain. It is. There are a lot of reasons for this. One, it’s by Nas, Nasir Jones. To me, he’s one of the most amazing artists in hip hop. He is from my era of hip hop, like the time when I was in college. So there’s a lot that like, you know, I think about when I hear Nas.

That song is on one of the best hip hop albums of all time, Illmatic. Secondly, that song is affirmational. That chorus has a call and response. Whose world is this? And the response is, the world is yours, the world is yours. It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine. Like, you could stand in a mirror and say that to yourself, right?

the producer, three, the producer is Pete Rock. Another phenomenal artist in the hip hop game. And he raps on that chorus. And then I’d say the other reason is, I love jazz. The song that is sampled in that song, in The World Is Yours is by Ahmad Jamal, who’s a jazz pianist. And the song that is sampled is called I Love Music.

I’m hyped just talking about the song. I am one of those people that like, I know the liner notes on songs. I know who produced something. That’s a whole other podcast that I have to sit on and chat about, the rap game.

Paula Edgar: Yes. We’re going to have to do something in June for Black Music Month because, and Nicole, when I think about somebody who loves music and it comes out, it’s you, lyrics and lyrics.

So good. Cause I was just going to say. If you don’t, if you don’t give me a hype song that has hip hop in it, I’m going to have to pull back and give me something else.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: That is one of my hype songs.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I love that. okay. So give the audience a little bit of background about who you are, how you have become to this space in terms of your role, both in work and in leadership, and, and how you built your brand throughout that time.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Wow. So I have had multiple careers, I would say. I started out working in Washington, D. C. My first job out of college, I was gonna be this idealist. I’m gonna go to D. C. where policy is made, and I’m gonna make things happen, right? I’m gonna change the world. That was my thinking. I spent about 10 years working in Washington, D. C. in various capacities, working in non profits. working for a financial services company that focused on affordable housing and making sure people across the country had safe places to live. and then the financial crisis hit and I had to rethink my life. What was my plan? How was I going to go forward?

I was working at a financial services company at the time. And everybody knows what happened in 2008, unless you are one of these people that was just born around that time. I decided to go back to school. So at that time I went to law school. Still thinking in the way in which I had worked for 10 years up until that point.

Working in non profits, working on affordable housing. How can I change the world? What can I do to have impact? When I got out of law school, it was a tough economy. You had to make some quick decisions on how you were going to make money. Either you had a job and it was deferred, or you had a job and it probably wasn’t paying that great, but you needed to have a job.

and so I started working right away in, the state legislature of New York of all things. That was something I didn’t even know was a pathway when I was in law school. No one tells you that there are counsel and chief of staff and policy people, in the legislature that have legal backgrounds. No one really told me that in law school, but I figured that out post law school, worked in that space for a couple of years.

And then I said, I want to represent people. I went to law school and that is like what I want to do. So I stepped away from the policy side of things and worked for a nonprofit legal services organization where I had, you know, at some points like a hundred clients. Representing low income New Yorkers and really being a true advocate for them.

So learning how to stand up for people in, in courtrooms, at the state house, sometimes lobbying for laws to be changed that impacted my clients. That was where I really started to hone the advocacy part of myself. I will tell you, I have been public speaking since I was four. So that part of me has like existed.

It has been developed and honed over the years. And professionally, even when I was working in DC for 10 years, that was the bulk of what my work was to speak to people, to really refine that skill of speaking. So I would say that speaking and advocating when I think about that combination, that is why I am where I am now.

I can advocate for my company as Government Relations counsel because I’ve advocated for real people, you know, who are in tough situations. I’ve advocated for policy. I’ve worked with policymakers and legislators. So being Government Relations counsel at this point in my journey, it really connected.

It really connected me back to work I had done earlier in life and things I had done even post law school and I became chief of staff almost a little over a year ago to our chief legal officer. And that was just how do I bring all of the strategic skills I had – the project management, the agility to work and to really be a thought partner and a strategic advisor to an executive.

I mean, who knew that I would be doing that? I honestly wouldn’t have thought that that’s where I would land. but I love it. It gives me an opportunity to showcase all of the things that make Nicole who Nicole is. The speaking, the being able to think strategically, to manage high level projects.

All of that comes into bare into these two roles that I currently have professionally, and it’s been fantastic.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I mean, so everything you said just resonated, but I don’t think even knowing you understand, I had an understanding of just how all of it flowed together. And I think that a lot of people do think that careers are linear.

And if nothing else, I hope that people are getting from the podcast and everyone else’s journey is that it is not linear at all. And that sometimes your vision and then the visions of the world for you, they are going towards the right direction, but they’re taking a lot of different routes. And so, I’m glad that I asked about how it all came together.

there’s one thing that, before we pivot and we have a specific pivot, we’re going to do that I do want to ask you about, because I do think for me, when I think about your brand and I want the audience to really hear about your thoughts about this, it is that, you are also. sort of the epitome of growth mindset and consistent learning, right?

You’ve done a lot of different fellowships and opportunities to learn and professionally develop. And I want you to talk a little bit about why that’s important for you.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Yeah, so fellowships, those are definitely something I highly recommend to mentees, the students I teach, to my peers. Fellowships give you that opportunity, especially if you’re in a place where that organization is not necessarily financially supportive of professional development, because many times I’ve been in, especially in government and nonprofits, the budget is not what it is. So I had to seek outside places to develop myself as far as leadership skills, budgeting, management, all sorts of things. And I’ve done that through fellowships. And by that, I mean, these are usually leadership development programs that are for a specific amount of time.

And they usually are things you have to apply for. They’re competitive in nature. They will bring together a cohort of individuals for that particular time period to learn from each other, to grow together. And I have done that on several occasions. I think my friends know that I’ve had at least four that I could definitely think of, and there might be more.

I think I might actually be low balling myself on how many of these I have obtained, but they’ve been super helpful for that reason of getting me connected to people who weren’t just in my field, learning from them and their failures, their wins, really understanding different industries. All of that makes you more well rounded.

Able to approach problems in a different way, because perhaps you learned about something during a case study in your fellowship program. So those have been super essential for me to build myself up, build my skills, to build my brand in a way where now I’m known across multiple industries and to also learn about other roles and opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about prior to being in those types of settings.

So I think those are definitely a great tool to help in building skills, building your brand, expanding your network more broadly outside of the circle of people that you tend to connect with because of your industry.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, no, that’s probably the perfect definition of why fellowships and also seeking outside professional development in general is important, so I’m glad I took the time to pivot in that space because…

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Because you knew I’ve done a lot of fellowships.

Paula Edgar: Because, because I know that you are a fellowship gal. You love your fellowships. okay. So when we were talking about, you know, I knew that when I started the podcast that I wanted Nicole to be on there and I was trying to figure out what was going to be the right time, what was the right topic. And it just kind of came to us several times.

We were like, we have to talk about this and the topic that we really want to delve into right now is the impact of good moderation on your brand and the challenges on your brand when moderation is not done at its best.

Let’s put it that way. And so the reason why I knew Nicole was the right person is that – I tell people all the time, I try not to judge people in a way that feels like judgy, right? I like to think about folks in a way where I’m like, I want to help and I want to give feedback in that way to help. But, I do have a very high standard when it comes to being on the audience side, experiencing people who are moderating and also when I’m on a panel and I’m being moderated and my favorite position is to be in the moderator role because I care so much and so deeply about the experience of the audience and, Nicole’s probably the only other person that I feel feels is similar to me in terms of how we relate to the preparation and all those things.

And so Nicole is going to run down some things that we’re just going to talk about moderating. So, in your opinion, Nicole, how does a moderator’s approach directly impact the effectiveness of a panel?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Wow. How? It really does. And I think that that’s the role that when there’s a panel, people don’t necessarily think the most about, but they really should. In my opinion, the moderator sets the pace and by pace, I am spelling it out because I am known to give an acronym: PACE. That is the moderator must be prepared. That moderator needs to be agile. That moderator needs to be conscientious and engaged. You set the pace. Those questions, through prep calls, anything that you could have done beforehand to make sure everybody on that panel is prepared to deliver that’s on you as the moderator to help facilitate that. You also have to be prepared that anything can happen.

Technology issues, all sorts of stuff. You have to be prepared to be able to move around. And that brings me to agile, that A. Even if you are prepared, you still have to stay ready. Technology fails, missing panelists, rogue panelists. Why exactly did we invite this panelist? Too much time, too little time.

You have to stay flexible as a moderator. And the best ones who do that, you see that they know how to shift gears on, you know, an instant. Conscientious. I need a moderator to be, and as a moderator I am, I pay attention to the audience, their engagement, the questions that might have been posed. I’m conscientious of the panelists.

Have they all spoken? You should ask yourself. Has someone spoken too much? Right? Being conscientious of what is happening and engaged. I tell you, rule number one for me is listen. Moderators who do not listen to what is being said by the panelists are missing out on all sorts of things. For instance, let’s say the panelist has just dropped a gem.

But you have a list of questions you prepared in advance. Do you go to the next question after this gem has been dropped? Or, should you take a moment there to listen to what was said, to either follow up with another question on that, to bring out more of that? Should you do a quick recap so the audience, if they didn’t catch it, like, catch this, right?

Doing that recap. Now there are times, and I will give caveats, we’re talking about panels where maybe you have a lot of authority as a moderator. Maybe you’re getting to make the questions up and you know who the panelists are. There are those times, Paula, you know, where you’re moderating a panel of government officials.

They can only say what was on their script. Even with that, though, I think you can still, as the moderator, again, setting the pace, being engaged. You can still take their canned responses and recap them or restate them in a way back to the audience that again brings that audience in. You are taking the audience on a ride as a moderator.

And guess what? You’re setting the pace and the pace of this ride depends on how you as a moderator facilitate that. Does that make sense? So that’s what, that’s what my thoughts are about that.

Paula Edgar: That a hundred percent made sense. And because, see, speaking of preparation, I should have known that you were going to have an acronym because we always do this.

And so while you were talking, I was like, I’m going to use P. A. C. E. and do it too. That’s right. So here’s what I got.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: It’s all good. When you think about, when you think about me, I’m telling you that is like, you know, what do I do? I’m going to bring an acronym. I’m going to have a quote. I’m going to bring myself.

That’s me who I am authentically, it comes from, you know, years of practice doing that in other settings.

Paula Edgar: I do think it’s what it’s one of the things that connects us in terms of because I believe adult learners need to hear and they need something to be able to connect back to and having acronyms is really helpful in that way.

Preparation is 100 percent in my mind, when you think about the role of the moderator, they need to be prepared for all the things you just mentioned. So preparation is my P as well. A is going to be amplify and to be accountable. Amplify meaning amplify what the subject matter is like you mentioned making sure you’re making connections between what folks are saying, but to be accountable to the audience and that you’re keeping timing.

You are making sure all the panelists get to speak. That you are thinking about their experience in the way that they come out of it having learned having felt like they haven’t wasted their time, etc. Absolutely. Yes. C is to communicate and also commit. So obviously communication is important, but I will say this because when I thought to myself about what I see moderators not doing well is I’m going to say over communicate, right?

When I am going to be a moderator and a panelist, I say it up front, I go, I’m a modelist. A panel-ator. I connect them. But if you are only in fact a moderator, then you must only in fact be a moderator. And that’s not saying that you can’t, you know, cap, you know, recap things like you mentioned.

I think that’s important. But if you’re like, and also la la la, that takes away from the experience of the panelist as well as the audience, right? Because they’re hearing. They either have to expect that you’re going to be additive in that way or not.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Right, right. And you have to think about what the conference organizer or the meeting organizer who invited you, what are the outcomes and objectives that they have set? You need to meet those too. So you’re worried about that audience, but you also should be thinking about what is the purpose of this particular panel session? What does it mean for the conference or meeting organizer? Because you want to get invited back.

Paula Edgar: That part.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: You’ve done a good thing. You’ve done a good job. You want to be invited back. You want to be invited to other things.

Paula Edgar: Yes. We think about it.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: You also have to think about who invited you to this dance and what is it that they’re seeking to do.

Paula Edgar: And and your brand, right? The pulling this all through the branding room lens.

Right. And that if you don’t do it well, it does impact your brand. And when you do do it well, it amplifies and engages your brand, which takes me back to my E for PACE, which is elevate and express. So the elevating, again, is bringing, making sure the people are, are, the content is elevated, but the expression of not just the subject matter, but who they are, the authenticity in the space in order to give the experience, one that is, is elevated. So I’m, I’m, I can’t wait to see.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: I love that. I love that. We can do a joint acronym.

Paula Edgar: I can see the graphics right now. I can’t, I can’t wait.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: But it’s real though. So for the audience that’s listening, I mean, you’re setting that pace. That’s why I said it in that way. But then yes, how we Paula and I have broken this down.

Those are the essential elements to being a really effective moderator. I love it.

Paula Edgar: So tell me as a moderator, I know that you put an extensive time into preparing. Right. And both of us use that as our P for PACE, because I think it is key to everything because it helps you to be prepared. Right?

What’s your preparation strategy? What are some of the advice that you can give the folks in terms of preparing for being a moderator?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Yes. I think one thing that is important might be overlooked because sometimes people are so excited to have been invited to be a moderator that they’re just focused on that panel and moderating. You need to understand the purpose of the event and that panel, like, really understand what, what is the, if it’s a conference, what is this entity about?

What is their goals? Their mission? What do they do? How does this conference normally operate? You should know about the organization that’s hosting it. Who do they serve? Who’s the audience? Who’s going to be in that audience? And then after you understand that, that’s when I start to think about, okay, what is this conference panel description?

Hopefully, you’re not reading that right before the event, the panel description.

Paula Edgar: Yeah.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Understand the conference, the meeting organizer’s objectives. Right? That’s why, that’s what that description should tell you. The outcomes that we expect as an audience member are going to be in that. Who is this panel session for? Why?

I mean, these are all of the kind of questions I go through before I even get to, all right, let me prep the people who are going to speak, I need to be prepared. The P in that PACE stands for both moderator and the panelist.

Then I would tell you I do a little bit if I haven’t selected the panelists myself, I do a little bit more diligence around my panelists.

I’m going to learn about them beyond the bio. You can keep that in some quotes, too, learn about your panelists beyond the bio. That means you need to use the search engines, the social media account that tells people about their professional things, or can we mention Google, LinkedIn? I don’t want to be branding other people’s brands out here, but using Google and LinkedIn to figure out other things.

Why do I do this? Because even when I’m in that prep call with the panelists, or if I’m on the panel, I like to tie in other pieces of people. So yes, you’re sitting here panelist as an expert on whatever we’re here to talk about, but you are also a person who is an expert on this, or you have experience doing Y, or maybe I figured out, I actually moderated a panel recently, Paula, where three out of the four panelists, we all went to Big Ten universities, and so there was this commonality amongst us, like, oh, Michigan played Illinois.

I was able to bring some of that into the banter, really hone, and develop the relationship with the panelists, before we even got to being on stage together. It loosens them up, too. Exactly. That research is like that Intel is important. So then I think pre panel prep calls are important if you can have them happen. And I say if, because sometimes you’re dealing with very, very busy people who you may have to end up just having a one quick one on one call with to let them know what maybe the whole group talked about and they missed the call. You have to figure that out, but have some sort of touch point. Whether it’s a very detailed email communication to the panelists or a call.

And if you have a call, perhaps you can ask everyone if it’s okay to record that call and send someone the zoom recording so that they can understand what the flow should feel and look like. Sometimes you can use that prep call to determine speaking order. Hey, Paula, I want you to address this question first.

You can use that prep call to figure out that, you know what, Jordan over there is not comfortable answering this particular question. So let me not even direct it towards him or her.

The other thing, and I’m going to say, because I know you do bruisers and all the pet peeves, please learn how to pronounce the names of the panelists on the prep call. That is your time to get that right, to get the phonetics of it. Do not be the moderator who’s on stage introducing panelists and jacking up their names. I mean, that’s the only way I could say that. Like, don’t do that. Like, please.

Paula Edgar: And then saying, I knew I was going to mess it up.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: That’s not cute. No one wants that.

Paula Edgar: It is so frustrating because I’m like, if you knew you were going to mess it up, then you should have figured this out in advance. and, and names are so important. And a lot of times, especially if you’re not at a panel with a dais, you’re saying this person is this person, this person is this person helps people to go back and remember who said what if there was not any designation of their names on a dais, or on a screen.

And so I think it is that it’s key and to say those names, you know, me, I get about this clearly. Slowly. And when you’re introducing yourself as a panelist, you say your name and then you say your name and your last name like this, Paula, Paula Edgar. It’s really, really important that people know your name so they can find you.

What else? Anything else in the preparation before I give my supplemental?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: I think the other thing, you know, just going back to that pre panel communication, in that, in that message, I include the date, the time, the location, it should be obvious because they know they were asked to be a panelist. But sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes the people who received that are the assistants of these individuals and not them directly. The timing, I would put in there any agreed upon norms or rules, Because I do have those as a moderator. I am the intelligent interrupter and I will let them know that. So if you were trying to be rogue, I will intelligently and swiftly move you back on course.

So I will let them know of those kind of norms and rules. Don’t overspeak your panelists, things like that. Just a few rules of the road. And then, any notes about who will be the person to take the lead on a particular question. Sometimes that’s helpful for people to just kind of understand, get this, the pace of what we plan to do on the panel.

Paula Edgar: Okay.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: I’d love to hear yours.

Paula Edgar: Yes. Yes. So, and because you have been one of my panelists, you know this. So I have Paula’s rules, my Paula’s panelist rules that I circulate, that includes a lot of what Nicole just mentioned, but essentially, and if any of you are interested in this, I’m happy to send you a redacted draft of this.

So you can send me an email at [email protected]. And I’m happy to send this to you because I’m trying to change the world one panel, one moderator at a time. But essentially, the rules are, don’t overspeak, like you mentioned, that you should be always keeping your eye on the moderator, me as the moderator, so that you can know that if I’m giving you some kind of cue, and I sometimes will say that the cue might be me tugging on my ear or, you know, messing with my necklace to let you know it’s time to either slow down or move on or what have you, whatever the thing is, I include in that document all of the bios for everybody who is speaking because it’s important to your point that everybody knows each other.

And while I’m, I will have, like you’ve done a lot of research in advance, they usually haven’t found out about themselves. And I think it’s a missed opportunity for relationship building, right? You only have the time on the panel and nothing else. But if you give a panel their, bios in advance, they sometimes will take the opportunity to see who else is on there and find some of those symmetries, without you having to weave it for them.

And I think that’s also very nice. And it, it helps me to. encourage them to relationship build and that is always what I want is for us to, to, to make deep relationships, not just, you know, light touches to really get to know each other. In addition to that, I have the timing. I also have who starts when, who starts off on each question.

During my conversations, I always say, you don’t have to answer every question unless I have designated that you are going to answer every question. So, you know, in advance, the ones you’re expected to and the ones you expect to lead on. I, depending on, to your point, what the want of the, of the organizer is, I will either say this is a piggyback or a non piggyback conversation.

So because you’re time bound most of the time, right? You want to not use your opportunity to speak as a piggyback moment. You want to say something new, innovative, and additive to the conversation versus being like, just like Nicole just said, I want to piggyback on that. I’m like, well. If Nicole just said it, why are you saying it?

Nicole said it perfectly well. There’s no need for you to say it again. So I have rules like no piggybacking. I talk about, that we will have a picture either before or after the panel because I believe everything should be documented. I let folks know if there is a recording or if there’s a need for a, release or not.

Just all those norms and the things that the, the organizer would like and the things that I would like as well, and potential questions. This is really important. I never want people to feel unprepared. because while I might be able to pivot and ask questions, you know, with you, I know that I can just ask you something and you’ll be fine.

But most people tend to be very structured. And, and I work, we both work with a lot of lawyers. They want to know and anticipate what’s going to happen in advance. And that’s really important to give them a little bit of safety, even if you don’t use all of the questions to say, here’s where it might go.

And then, and I think this is really important for prep and that prep call that you might have with the panelists, is to know what their bullet points are. So even if they don’t know what their bullet points are at that point, I say to them, for the questions that you’re lead on, you should at least have three different bullet points about that question.

So that you are, right, either like we’re doing, you’re making the acronym, or ABC ing, because people learn that way. And also, to use stories to amplify their points. So, there’s a lot more in there. But all of those –

Nicole Lester Arrindell: We got to do the part two or actually like a checklist. I love, you know, just to tie it back to personal branding too.

I love moderating and facilitating conversations because I really do think it amplifies and puts your skills on display. So if you’re thinking about a strategy internally in your organization. Let’s say they need to have someone moderate a panel of the board members or executives or maybe one of your employee resource groups wants to facilitate a panel session.

They want to have someone have a panel session and they need a moderator. Raise your hand to do it. Why? Internally, it has helped me out tremendously, and I know that. Being able to put my skills on display. You’re showcasing leadership. You’re showcasing your ability to listen. The time management that Paula and I have both talked about, like being able to manage that time.

You’re showcasing your knowledge, your expertise in how you ask questions and how you follow up on the answers you’ve heard. It showcases your ability to synthesize information. It also showcases your ability to meet the objectives of that organizer, right? And then you get to showcase your style, you know, organizations all around are always talking about be your authentic self.

Well, you know, we’re not showing up the whole authentic self. We’re showing up authentically, but you know, there might be a few pieces missing, but your style of moderating and your style that you bring to demonstrating those skills I just laid out. That’s what’s going to differentiate you. That’s your brand.

That’s the stuff that’s going to be like, you know what? You were so great when you moderated that panel. Can you come do this one? Can you emcee this offsite meeting that we’re doing for our leaders? That’s how I’ve elevated my personal brand internally in not only the organization where I work now, but in others I’ve worked in by showcasing that ability to be able to facilitate conversations, showing up as my authentic self.

So I’m going to give you a tangible takeaway because that’s what I say. You’re going to leave this with something tangible. And I’m going to showcase who I am with the quotes with the music reference with the sports reference. I’m showcasing who I am, while also amplifying the panelists or that speaker if it’s a fireside chat.

Yes, I like to infuse a Beyonce reference in a lot of what I do. So, you know, it’s true you can show the sort of staple piece of who you are within, within that. But I want to go back to something you said, you talked about using it to amplify and to, to showcase your skillset and your brand and, and your authentic self internally.

But this is something, if you don’t have the opportunity internally that you can take as a skill or an opportunity externally, and it’s why I love bar associations and civic organizations, and professional organizations so much because they are usually most of the time, right? They are run by the participants, their members, they come up with the ideas and then they bring the thing.

So if you have an idea for a panel, you can bring together the panelists, you can navigate the conversation, all of those things, and in setting a goal as to what you want, and then bringing those pieces together using moderation as the vehicle, through a bar association or another kind of organization, It is key.

If you’re not getting the skill development internally, you can do it externally and then bring it back internally too.

And I’m glad you mentioned the external because of course I do them externally for bar associations and other groups. but I wanted to be sure to mention the internal piece because I feel like that is a lost opportunity for people.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I agree.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Really thinking about ways strategically internally at a place where you’re getting that paycheck. Like how can you showcase yourself in a different way outside of whatever job you’ve been hired to do that showcases your personal brand in a very different way.

Paula Edgar: True. And it’s truly strategic self promotion. Because it’s while it’s other people who you are amplifying, they have no option but to see you in your light. If you, and even if you, and I’ll say this because I know that you all can tell if you’re watching or just hearing us, we love this. Like, it’s not like we’re talking about because we enjoy it, but there are some people who don’t necessarily enjoy it or don’t feel like it comes to them naturally.

But you can still do it and do it well. I don’t think you have to be, you know, you don’t have to put on a show, but you do have to take into consideration the things we talked about, that preparation, thinking about the audience experience and utilizing and weaving in those things. And you can do that whether or not you identify as, you know, someone who is an extrovert or who even loves these things, or even an introverted extrovert, you can still do this really, really well. And it takes practice.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Practice. Yes. Another sports reference. I love Allen Iverson. He said, we’re talking about practice. Yes, we are talking about practice because that is actually how you become better at this. Volunteering to do more of them is how you become better. And you mentioned you don’t have to put on a show.

You’re right as a moderator. It’s not about you, right? Like, you’re not the show, but Or I should say, and you’re not the show and you are the person who is there to bring that audience in on that ride though. So you have to figure out how to showcase who you are, highlight and amplify those panelists, but also remembering again, a conscientiousness of the audience.

What do they want to get out of this? And it’s really your job to make sure those panelists deliver on that.

Paula Edgar: Right. You’re not the circus, but you’re the ringmaster.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Right.

Paula Edgar: Quote that. Anyway. Okay.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Oh my gosh. Quotables. I love it. That like, that’s part of what I do too. I’ve like, I have to have, if it’s not me, I’m going to make sure I have a quotable that people can walk away, whether it’s my acronym, whether it’s some line of a song or a sports reference or something that someone on that panel has said.

And that is really. Again, my love of music, particularly hip hop. There was a magazine. I was a avid subscriber of back in the nineties, early two thousands called The Source. They had a section called hip hop quotable and artists would strive to make sure their lyrics could be listed there. That was meaningful.

And so similar to that, I strive to make sure the panelists have those quotables right but something that they have said can resonate with people when they walk away. Each particular panelists had said something that has been amplified in some way where people are like, wow, that’s like a quotable thing that I can, you know, really associate with that particular panelist. See, I can weave hip hop into all kinds of stuff. So-

Paula Edgar: Well, let me put a little bit of a remix on this. See what I did there. I want to talk about, I want to talk about when you have, a Q&A, when you were navigating the Q&A, this is where I really find that good moderators shine because, number one.

When you’re doing a Q& A and it’s not questions you prepared for, you have to be prepared for anything because you don’t know what’s going to happen. and you have to protect your panelists and also give them the opportunity to shine. And I think it’s a very much a balancing act. So do you have a strategy that you use in terms of managing your Q& A?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: If allowed, I will, as a moderator, try to set ground rules or at least establish norms up front with the audience. So I will clarify how questions will be taken, whether people can raise their actual hand. If we’re doing it virtually, raise your virtual hand, use the conference app if that’s what the conference has, write down your question on a note card, step to the microphone, give the audience the rules of the road on that.

I also let them know when questions will be taken. If we’re going to do questions at the end, if we’re open to questions throughout, when there’s a break in the conversation, I want to be sure that everybody knows upfront what that’s about, if I’m given the space to do that. And then once it is time for questions, I encourage concise questions.

I encourage questions. Like, things that end with a question mark. So this is not the time to make statements, comments about things. I do that respectfully, I should say – in a respectful tone, reminding the audience that we have a limited amount of time. We want to be respectful of the next panel that’s coming up or respectful of our, our panelists time here.

We have time for X number of questions, or we only have a few minutes left. So that kind of Framing can allow somebody who might have stepped to that mic ready to talk about back when they were five and how this resonates with their thoughts about being a child or something like nothing have to do with what you’re up there talking about.

Sometimes using those framing techniques can steer that person who intends to get up there and make a political statement or say something that has nothing to do with asking an actual question. And you have to be as a moderator, respectful, but also redirect people who are up there just asking questions that have nothing to do with what’s happening.

You really do have to figure out your technique on how you do that. And because I’m a person who infuses a little bit of humor or, a little bit of my, and that’s really a big part of my personality to kind of infuse a little bit of humor, even when I’m in work settings, or even when I was in the courtroom as a litigator, there’s a way you could do it.

So I might use a little bit of humor to steer that person and redirect them away. Like this isn’t the time to give your, you know, stump speech. This is the time to ask a question about such and such, you know, or, you know, you just really have to figure out the way to do that. But those are some of the things that come quickly to mind because there’s always someone who plans to just make comments and statements. And right now we want to take questions.

Paula: Yes. For those of you who are our frequent listeners or who just listened to that one episode, I did something on conference branding bruisers and boosters. And you know, I took my time with the bruiser being, it’s a conference Q&A, and you decided that you were ready to do your soap opera soliloquy on my time.

I am not a fan of it from either the space of being in the moderator role where it’s frustrating because I’m trying to make sure I get questions and make sure it’s even more additive for the audience or from being in the audience and having you take over my time and my, and the energy that I would want to get from the panelists because you are making a statement.

So I will just repeat one more time. When you get on that microphone, you need to have your question. I’m a big fan of write your question down. So, you know, so that way the wind doesn’t blow you in another direction that you don’t plan to go, that you know exactly what you’re going to ask. That being said, you should use the opportunity at the mic to say who you are, right?

You should say, I am what have you. I don’t think you got to go into your whole bio, but I do – it’s a brand opportunity to ask a question as well. And you don’t want to lose that. but it hurts more than it helps when you make a statement rather than ask a question. and to your point about being able to navigate it in a way that is respectful, et cetera. I don’t know what, what did you call it? I wrote it down and I flipped the page. You said that you are. Oh, goodness. I’m going to –

Nicole Lester Arrindell: An intelligent interrupter.

Paula: I love that. I’m going to definitely borrow that with attribution. I always say the use of the word thank you can be a pillow or it could be a knife where I’m like, thank you so much. Or I’m like. Okay. Thank you. Thanks for your question. Moving on. Thank you so much. Because it’s still polite. I’m still saying thank you. I’m not telling you to get the hell off of the stage. But the point is, is that people, self-awareness tends to sometimes fly out of the room when people are either on the panel and talking too much or on the, and doing Q&A and trying to make a comment.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Yes. And we’ve all seen the people from the audience who are like, I should have been asked to be on the panel. So right now I’m going to give you my whole, this is how I would have answered those questions Nicole asked them. And it’s like, this is not your time, you know?

Paula Edgar: I think that we did a pretty good job of weaving a lot of the things that I wanted, that we both wanted to talk about, into, into this, but I want to end this part of the conversation with how you end this part of the conversation. So what are some of your ways you talked about weaving things together. What are your thoughts? How do you maintain your focus throughout the panel while you’re moderating in order to effectively and profoundly even conclude a panel?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: A lot of times I use synthesis. So I will synthesize key points or insights. I ask each panelist for their final thought, if there’s space and room for that. I am definitely a big fan of thanking everyone. Thank the panelists. I’m going to thank the audience. I’m going to thank the organizers for inviting me to moderate and for them hosting this topic.

Because sometimes it’s a sensitive topic and maybe it’s a really great opportunity to recognize someone who was bold enough to have a space to talk about that particular topic. So I’m going to do that. Something that’s not as like glamorous and memorable is I’m going to remind people about the completing the evaluation.

Why? Because hopefully the panel was memorable and you again want to be invited back or you want to be invited to do more things. And even if that’s not the reason you want to get the feedback. I’m a big proponent of getting feedback in real time. And so I’m gonna remind the audience to complete the evaluation through whatever method the conference organizer or meeting organizer has decided that they want to get that feedback.

And, those are just some of the things I can think of about like ending in a way, that can be memorable and, and strong. And again, if I have a quote that can tie everything together, I’m known to do that too. I might start off the panel session that way, but I’m also known to end it in a way that might actually wrap up and put a bow on everything that has been said.

Paula Edgar: I think that that, that part is perfect and I’ve seen you moderate a few times. And what I love is that bringing you back to the beginning, the points throughout, and ending with some kind of memorable, whether it’s a quote from the actual panel or a quote that you thought about in advance.

And I think a really great in preparation is to think about quotes that you may want to use. Just knowing what the topic is. I think, you know, maybe having three or four to say, I’m gonna just pull this one and whatever way it works for me that day. It’s the one I’m going to pull. I think that’s a really great thought.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Oh, yeah. All those sticky notes, girl. We just go find one.

Paula Edgar: Exactly. Pull a sticky note. And just my other additive pieces is to also, in addition to asking for final thoughts from the panelists is I like to ask them also what resources they might recommend to continue learning on the topic. and to that end, keeping the same pace and, and respecting your time, I want to get to two questions that I ask all of my guests in the branding room. And, and I know I’m not even asking, I’m telling you coming back to the branding room, so, but I’m going to ask you these two things, which is one. Stand by your brand. What is something about your brand that is authentic that you will never compromise on?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Well, as a moderator or just…

Paula Edgar: However you want to answer.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: I won’t compromise on being able to bring the authenticity that is Nicole to the workplace, whether that’s a boardroom, a courtroom to the volunteer capacities in which I serve to my leadership. At this point in my life as somebody who’s crossed 40 and is looking at, you know, the other half century of my life, fast approaching, I just don’t think I’m willing to compromise on that anymore.

There are parts of me that I’m like, this is who I am. This is what I bring to the table, and I’m not willing to compromise on that, being able to showcase who I am in all of the spaces in which I have to dwell.

Paula Edgar: Speaking of showcasing who you are, so Branding Room Only is a twist on standing room only.

And so what would be something that would get people in a room where they’d only be standing room only, but you were on the stage to either experience or hear you do?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Well, I am a person who gave a TEDx talk, so I have experienced, you know, people coming in the room specifically to see me and four other speakers, but I would say that in a, in a panel moderation setting, particularly, people know that I am going to give you a quote, a stat, a compelling statement or fact.

I’m going to use a memorable acronym or have some sort of analogy that really wraps up what we’re talking about. I will use humor tastefully if appropriate. I am going to use a music or sports reference, again if appropriate. If appropriate. And I think that those things, when they’re used sparingly, not overdone, if they’re used in a way that connects the objective of the panel session to, what the organizers want and what I’ve been invited to moderate about, I think that’s what people look for me for they’re like, she is going to be able to meet our objectives. She is going to bring out of the panelists what we want. The audience is going to receive it. They’re going to be engaged and she’s going to be, you know, funny and engaging, you know, somehow, even with dry topics. Cause I’ve done it dry topics that definitely don’t seem interesting. I can make that sound more interesting just in some of the ways I talked about earlier, figuring out how to rephrase things or infuse certain statements, quotes or humor as appropriate, throughout that conversation. So I think that’s what people look for that I’m going to give a good talk.

If I’m asked to talk and I’m going to moderate something in a way where people are like, wow, you know, she wasn’t the expert, but like, she really made me want to listen to the experts.

Paula Edgar: I love that. And I will just say, because as I mentioned at the beginning of this is that, um, most of my conversations I’m focusing just on my guests, but for this is because we’re so passionate about it. I will answer this one question the same time. For me, it is, they will know that they can trust me and it’s because of how much, how much preparation I put into it, and, and how much care I’m putting into their experience because I truly do. I probably much more than I need to, but it’s, it’s how my brand and I want them to go away from it, having learned, feel and feeling as if we have made a connection, even if it’s 5,000 or five people in the room.

That is my Branding Room Only standing room only moment. Nicole, how can my listeners and my viewers, stay in touch with you?

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Connect with me on LinkedIn, but use proper etiquette. So send a note that says, I heard you on Branding Room Only, or saw you on Branding Room Only. Would love to connect so at least I can know how you might have found me and I don’t delete your request, but connect with me on LinkedIn and it’s Nicole Lester Arrindell, all one word for my LinkedIn profile but that’s a great way to connect, and I’ve met people through that medium so –

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. And we will be sharing a link to your LinkedIn and also sharing a link to your TEDx, on our show notes. Nicole, thank you so much for being and joining me in this lively conversation, in the branding room. I definitely invite you to come back again, to spend some time. Bye everyone.

Nicole Lester Arrindell: Bye.