Like many of you, I’ll be attending Sunstone this year. I’m looking forward to many of the panels. Kristine and Janet and Jana and Bored in Vernal will be speaking. Armand Mauss and Claudia Bushman and John Dehlin and John Hamer and Lorie Winder and Paula Goodfellow and Newell Bringhurst. _Nobody Knows_ will show. Really, the only thing that worries me is the moderation.
I’ve been to two symposiums so far. Both times, I’ve attended wonderful talks and panels. And both times, at least one session has been seriously undermined by a commenter run amok.
Typically, the speakers talk for a period of time, and then the floor opens for Q&A. This is a great opportunity for the audience to get involved. (And at some of these sessions, the audience is Richard Bushman!) Ideally, the Q&A allows a variety of audience members to ask questions and engage with the speakers.
Sometimes, though, a commenter decides to take the mike and run — and run, and run, and run. The result is never good.
I sat through one great session last year that essentially ended up having no Q&A, because the first audience commenter proceeded to go on a fifteen minute rant about various doctrinal issues — becoming, in effect, an unfortunate fifth speaker for the four-person panel. Another panel I heard this spring saw only very limited Q&A, since the Q&A period was mostly dominated by a fifteen-minute travelogue reminiscence from the first audience member to make it to the mike.
Sunstone Q&A periods are not testimony meetings, where possession of the mike often means a green light to ramble. They are, in theory, a time for the audience to ask questions of panelists who are often experts in their fields.
And yes, I know, to some extent, this probably taps into the Sunstone-as-scholarship versus Sunstone-as-therapy debate. If Sunstone is all just a big group therapy session and group hug, then perhaps it’s appropriate to allow any rambler to grab the mike for a fifteen minute monologue. But in recent years, the symposium has pushed hard to be more scholarly — appropriately, I think.
It’s not 1990 anymore, and today there are a multiplicity of other places that one can let loose an unhinged rant or travelogue. (Blogs, anyone?) In contrast, there are not many other similar venues where audience members can engage in substantive dialog with Armand Mauss or Claudia Bushman.
So, this post is a plea to Mary Ellen and her cadre of enforcers. Please, let’s lay down the law and rein in the rants and travelogues. I think that a stated policy can help a lot — I see these at academic conferences sometimes — such as simply having the moderator say, “please keep all comments to two minutes or less, in order to allow other audience members to participate in the Q&A” at the same time that she tells commenters to be sure to speak into the microphone.
And then, of course, enforce.
What do people think? How should Sunstone moderators walk the line required in order to facilitate good Q&A while not letting rogue commenters run wild?