What Constitutes Good Moderating

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What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by Beevor Feevor » Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:12 pm

Many of us who browse these forums have probably heard dozens of different Quizbowl moderators over the course of their careers. I'm sure there's been significant variation in speed, quality, pronunciation accuracy, idiosyncrasies, what have you. I've quite enjoyed seeing how different individuals read questions with different cadences and accents, and appreciate a great moderator when I see one as someone who really helps a game gain a sense of momentum and excitement.

However, I'm sure that we've all had experiences with new or improving moderators who have affected the quality of the game experience. This can be due to inexperience, inability to pronounce technical scientific words or snippets of foreign languages, etc. There is also the category of moderators with stutters, lisps, and other various speech impediments. While rude to point out during a game, these experiences give the question-playing experience a degree of artificial difficulty: figuring out a specific moderator's speech patterns and quirks is part of playing a good game. Sort of like adjusting to turf quality in football or the specificities of a particular baseball diamond, I can imagine certain Quizbowl purists arguing that that kind of experience is part of the overall Quizbowl experience.

Does this have to be the case? I'm a decent, but probably not elite moderator, so this post won't be arguing for a particular style of reading questions appropriately in all circumstances. I do want to raise some points about moderator quality that I think could use some community discussion. I don't have any answers to these questions, but I do want to see what people generally think about moderators and what makes a given moderator good. Ideally, a guide to reading questions could be posted somewhere readily accessible for TDs to educate new moderators on best practices.
  • Should moderators pause after sentences? I've always found it strange that certain moderators would prefer to blaze through a tossup without any regard for periods. Given the difficulty that most new players have adjusting to the tempo of Quizbowl competition, shouldn't we respect the periods placed by question writers and build in pauses? A simple line break after each period would do the trick, though it would certainly make tossups less visually appealing.
  • If the technology were available to have a text-to-speech robot read out a standardized set of questions so that the moderator could keep detailed stats & score, would that be preferable? Imagine a world where the best reader in the world (debates can obviously occur over which reader is actually the best, but that could be dependent by set) reads out all tossups and bonuses ahead of time and the audio file gets sent out to TDs. Even while recognizing the difficulties in playing and pausing the audio appropriately - which could probably be made user-friendly quite easily - wouldn't such a system make games more fair? Moderators would still be able to step in in case of emergencies, resolve protests, and fix audio bugs should they occur.
  • Is there an optimal gap between words that Quizbowl moderators should aim for to help newbies adjust to the game? I grant that this will change according to the difficulty level: middle school tournaments and Chicago Opens don't have to run on the same clock. However, just like college basketball vs. the NBA, it seems to make sense to me that the pace of our game should remain consistent and not vary arbitrarily according to moderator capability. I'm not sure what the practical workaround would be, but a demonstration by a TD before a tournament starts at the moderator meeting could give everyone a reasonable tempo to shoot for.
In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn't a hugely needed change. The game has bigger problems in outreach than new teams getting scared away with bad or lightning-quick moderators, and differentiating top teams is much more reliant upon well-constructed questions than stable moderating. However, I did want to get people's takes on what the future of good moderating should be in an age where we can routinize the process, and whether that has any bearings on what experimental measures future tournaments may take to put these ideas in motion.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by Cheynem » Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:47 pm

I appreciate the effort at getting specific in this thread, as opposed to a catch-all "dos and don'ts" type thread (which is good, just more general).

I think, as you point out, there's obviously a range in the type of speed and moderating style depending on the type of tournament we're at. When I'm reading at a novice tournament, I read much slower and try to emphasize words more than I might do at a college side event. However, I also find that the introduction of a clock tends to basically force a consistent reading time anyway.

The ideal reader, to me, anyway, reads at a brisk but clear pace. I do agree that readers should pause after sentences, as well as pause when trying to clarify when there are actual key spaces in words. This can be challenging, especially if you're on the clock. Whenever possible, I think reading the question to yourself beforehand (or just glancing, even) can help to get a better sense of what your'e reading. Similarly, that doesn't mean just reading slowly--how many times have we been frustrated that a moderator's overly slow pace has prevented us from really focusing in on the question?

I might use the analogy of the teleprompter/cue cards while acting. Theoretically, you would never have to read a script, you'd just consult the cue cards every time when doing a scene or a performance. But that would be terrible, of course, since you might have no idea on how certain lines are supposed to be read, how sentences are supposed to flow together, etc. Ideally, moderators are the same way--they have a sense of how the question flows and should be read before they start reading the question to the teams. This is why (sometimes) people reading their own questions sound better because they know exactly how the sentences should be read. But even just someone more experienced in quizbowl questions, who knows what words are important and which can be rushed through, can have a better sense of reading than others.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by Joshua Rutsky » Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:53 pm

Just off the top of my head, I like three things in a moderator: consistency, confidence, and clarity. When we hold events, I try to remind moderators to count anything involving timing with generous hand gestures to make sure everyone sees that they are doing so in a consistent manner from toss-up to toss-up. Conversely, it really irritates me as a coach when a moderator is NOT transparent about counting, and seems to be varying the speed at which he or she counts.

A moderator doesn't have to pronounce everything correctly, but a good moderator will be consistently good at this. However, that good moderator will also know it is much more important to continue reading the question than it is to stop, look at a word, try to repronounce it three times, and then say, "Wow, that's a doozy!"

A great moderator does all of this, reads with good tempo but without the desperate speed that makes some readers very difficult to follow, and ARTICULATES CLEARLY. They do not block their mouth by holding up the question page to read, nor do they stare down so intently that they are projecting into the floor.

The BEST moderator is so good that he or she doesn't even really appear to play a role in the match in any way. They read so fluidly and so well that you don't notice that they are moderating until after the round ends, and that everything was all about the players and their ability, without distractions from the table.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by trbenedict » Thu Nov 15, 2018 11:54 am

One thing that I've appreciated in good readers, and that I've been consciously trying to copy, is that when they're reading, it's never ambiguous what the question is asking for. Usually they do this by putting a little more emphasis on this person each time the phrase appears, or this empire, etc. Granted, I've been watching a lot of MS and novice HS rounds, where that kind of clarity is even more important, but even the top teams hate negging because they missed the relevant pronouns.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by dwd500 » Thu Nov 15, 2018 12:20 pm

What I focus on in reading is establishing a flow - keeping moving from tossups to bonuses without having to shuffle a ton of papers, etc.. That, and eliminating "down time" goes a long way to making a game move quickly. If you have to move papers around or have to uncover your scoresheet, it gives players the room to start talking about the question, which you'll then need to calm down, and suddenly a 30-minute game turns into a 40-minute game.

I tell my moderators to always first glance at the answerline, because:
1) If someone buzzes early and gives the answer, you don't have to scan for a second or two to find if they're right and break the flow, and
2) You can use that knowledge in the back of your mind to help you phrase the sentences - figuring the words to stress, where to let your voice rise and fall, etc.

I'm the kind of person that tends to talk with my hands, and I find that allowing myself to do so when I get out of a regular flow helps me to get back into it.

It's always struck me that reading quizbowl is similar to music sightsinging. In conjunction with hearing the melodic note-to-note distances (oh these notes are a 4th apart, like in "Here comes the bride,") musical phrases have an underlying harmonic structure, and you can develop your ability to hear how that structure should flow to find exactly where a pitch should be (that previously mentioned 4th is So to Do, and we're in an authentic cadence.) Good sightreaders sing phrases, passable ones sing notes.

I've also heard similar questions when discussing a Shakespearean actor's performance - do you hear words or sentences?
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by The Billiards Fool » Thu Nov 15, 2018 3:51 pm

trbenedict wrote:
Thu Nov 15, 2018 11:54 am
One thing that I've appreciated in good readers, and that I've been consciously trying to copy, is that when they're reading, it's never ambiguous what the question is asking for. Usually they do this by putting a little more emphasis on this person each time the phrase appears, or this empire, etc. Granted, I've been watching a lot of MS and novice HS rounds, where that kind of clarity is even more important, but even the top teams hate negging because they missed the relevant pronouns.
This is something I always try to do, no matter the level at which I'm reading, and something I've always appreciated a ton at every level (this also means writers are best served by writing questions which lend themselves well to clarity when reading and something I try and do when proofreading/writing is read them aloud using this style to see whether the question lends itself to that).

I've noticed another thing that can cut down on issues is not thinking too much when you moderate. I often instruct novice/new moderators at our tournaments not to try and internalize the answers when they're reading because it increases the likelihood of them slipping up and revealing the answer. These mistakes can be cut down on by doing your best to ensure the answer isn't in your mind when you read the words on the page (there is a good medium place for more experienced moderators but for newer mods/those struggling with revealing answers I like to instruct them to start by not internalizing the words they're reading and work from there).

Another important factor in good reading I've noticed is finding the perfect clarity to speed ratio. One of my biggest pet peeves is readers who read at a speed at which they can no longer articulate clearly in the interest of being quick. I'd rather the round be a few minutes slower but actually understand the questions than have a reader stumble through a quick round.

Timing wise cutting down on chatter is super important and I think probably even more important than speeding up your wpm by 5 or whatever.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by AGoodMan » Thu Nov 15, 2018 4:01 pm

Something I've been trying to do consistently is ask at halftime for feedback on speed/clarity so I can make adjustments if needed.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Nov 15, 2018 11:14 pm

Just imitate Rob Carson, he's the best mod out there IMO

(Caveat: if you're not able to crack jokes, don't try to)
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by matthewspatrick » Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:55 am

dwd500 wrote:
Thu Nov 15, 2018 12:20 pm
I tell my moderators to always first glance at the answerline, because:
1) If someone buzzes early and gives the answer, you don't have to scan for a second or two to find if they're right and break the flow, and
2) You can use that knowledge in the back of your mind to help you phrase the sentences - figuring the words to stress, where to let your voice rise and fall, etc.
In NAQT's national events, the moderator checklist appended to the front of each packet typically includes an instruction to look at a particular question ahead of time if it includes something tricky like a complicated answer line. TDs for regular season invitationals would be doing their mods a solid if they would preview the packets and dispense similar warnings as they distribute packets before each round.

EDIT: turns out that moderator warning thing was a more recent innovation than I'd remembered. All the same, it's an excellent practice, and one all TDs should strive to adopt.
Last edited by matthewspatrick on Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by matthewspatrick » Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:58 am

dwd500 wrote:
Thu Nov 15, 2018 12:20 pm
What I focus on in reading is establishing a flow - keeping moving from tossups to bonuses without having to shuffle a ton of papers, etc.. That, and eliminating "down time" goes a long way to making a game move quickly. If you have to move papers around or have to uncover your scoresheet, it gives players the room to start talking about the question, which you'll then need to calm down, and suddenly a 30-minute game turns into a 40-minute game.
TDs, for the love of all that's good, if you're using paper packets, stop printing on both sides. Or at the very least, do not ever allow the last page of tossups and the first page of bonuses to be on the same sheet of paper.
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Re: What Constitutes Good Moderating

Post by alexdz » Fri Nov 16, 2018 11:23 am

matthewspatrick wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:58 am
TDs, for the love of all that's good, if you're using paper packets, stop printing on both sides. Or at the very least, do not ever allow the last page of tossups and the first page of bonuses to be on the same sheet of paper.
THIS. It makes reading so much easier when I don't have to figure out which side of the page I just read. I also tend to read with the papers held slightly up in front of me rather than flat on a table, so when there is content on the back of pages, I'm in danger of showing it to the players sitting closest to me. I'm into sustainability more than most (devoted 2.5 years of my life to a professional career in it, plus 2 years of volunteering at UIUC). My concern here is that there is a real and actual danger of accidentally spoiling questions when packets are copied on both sides of the paper. Especially since we're giving packets to teams (for the most part), it's not as if the paper is going to waste.

To return to the thread topic, I have found that any time I'm staffing solo, the thing that slows me down the most is getting off by a line or two on the scoresheet, which tends to happen most often when a tossup or two goes dead. I've recently started marking off the tossup number on the scoresheet as I read, which has helped a bit in minimizing the chance of such an error.
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