Don’t Suck. How to Successfully Moderate a Conference Panel

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This post has now become recommended reading for moderators at Ad:Tech 2008, SXSW (see FAQ #10), and more. This post is reprint from a few years ago, but is just as relevant, as the industry prepares for another busy conference season.

Most Panels Suck: How To Stand out from Others
Sadly, the value of most panels are really poor, and this is mostly due to the lack of moderation. Yesterday, I heard that one nervous moderator asked the panelists to introduce themselves (which was his job), then went directly to Q&A, providing little structured value to the audience. On the complete opposite end, I’ve seen one self-important moderator answer questions from the crowd, when it was his job to field questions to the panelists.

How to Successfully Moderate a Conference Panel:


Objectives and Ideology

 

Think of the audience as your customers
Treat the audience like your customers, they’ve paid with money and time to come to your panel. Your job is to give them the information they need, or to entertain them, and often both. You’ve one of the most difficult jobs as you’ll have to set the pace, maintain some control, but know when to back off. Remember that you’re here to serve the audience first and panelists second.

Picking the right panel members
Often, a moderator is asked to select the panel, this isn’t always the case, but more than likely you will be involved in the approval process. Find folks that are experts in the field and have varying points of view. I find that 3-4 panelists is ideal, any less becomes difficult to flesh out all the viewpoints , and anymore becomes unwieldy. One time, I was 1 of 5 panelists, and I think I spoke a total of 5 minutes, a real waste of time.

Find out what success looks like
Look at the context of the conference, what is it about? who is attending? what are the other panels? Ask the conference organizers what success would look like, what questions does the audience want answered and what is their level of sophistication?


Preparation

 

Get to know the panelists
This is often difficult as many panels never meet in advance, but in our social world many folks are online and can be found. Do Google searches on their name and the topic at hand, and you may be surprised what you find online.

Research the topic
The most entertaining panels have a dash of debate, look at an issue from many angles, practical steps to get started, and tell a few jokes. Find where the points of contention are and be sure to bring it up, this is how you’ll bill the panel. Use a blog post, Twitter or other feedback tool to glean questions from the community.

Properly market the panel
Successful panels will often have a title that is catchy, in tune for the conference, and has a detailed summary of what the audience will get out of it. You should blog about the upcoming panel, and the panelists should too.

Develop agenda bulletpoints
I try to establish some general high level bullets, 3-5 is good, so it helps the panelists to prepare and research. Don’t get into overly detailed questions, you never want them to be overly rehereased. I always have some secondary questions if no one asks questions, and it’s best to throw some curve balls to panelists after they warm up.

Have prepared notes
Print out the research you did of their bios, points of contention, the high level agenda, and follow up questions you may want to do. I’m known for requiring the panelists to bring a case study or example with measurable results.

Before you use powerpoints, really think it through
In most cases, panels should focus on the discussion and interaction between the panelists. Presentations should only be used in these situations: They add value by visualizing a conceptual concept, you’ve some industry stats that preface the event, or there’s a funny video that gets the crowd warmed up. Have a mental checklist: Is this going to add value? Does this give each panelist an equal response? Is this truly necessary?

Have a pre-briefing meeting
It’s really hard to get panelists to all get on the phone together, I can only think of a few times when this has worked. Instead, have a quick meeting in person before the panel actually happens, it will only take 15 minutes. This is good bonding time, be sure to remind them of the general structure, but make sure they’re relaxed and going to have fun. Listen carefully to the conversation, as you’ll pick up interest points that will help you setup questions while on stage.

Housekeeping
Prepare all your notes, laptops, make sure everyone has water before you get on stage, in some cases, plan out where folks will sit. Remind the panelists, yourself, and the audience to turn off cell phones. Smile a lot, and have fun…ok, now we get on stage.


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On Stage

 

Be a leader and know the impact of body language
I’ve studied this a few times, when I moderate, the body language I give off will be echoed by the panelists. If I sit up straight, or if you fidget, they will follow, the same happens when you speak. Look at the panelist when you ask a question, then look at the audience (they will follow suit), If you look at the panelists after you’ve asked a question, they will instinctively look back at you, an odd site to the audience. Unless responding to another panelists, the panelist should be addressing the audience so keep your attention on the customer.

Set the stage by providing context
As the first speaker the moderator should set the stage by quickly give an overview of why this panel was accepted, and what you’re going to cover. I tend to avoid the usual banter about ‘how this panel is going to be great’ or make length introductions about panelists, that usual pretty-talk is often low value. Next, give a brief introduction about the panelists –but save the lengthy bios for the pamphlet or website — folks know how to read. (submitted by Dave Pelland)

The first question should be a warm up
You should tee-up the crowd, and the panelists by asking a broad, easy question. Ask for a definition, or talk about the history of the topic, or why this topic is so interesting to the panelists.

Ask about benefits and opportunities
Some moderators let them conversation dive into the weeds too fast, focusing on ratty details, nuts and bolts before prefacing ‘why’ these things are important in the first place. Guide the panelists to discuss the benefits, and why these things are great in the first place.

Ask about risks, challenge the panel
The audience is tired of industry zealots. We all know the panelists are passionate experts in their field, but you need to ensure a balanced viewpoint is given. Give an example of how it’s not worked, and then ask the panelists to explore the risks. Give them the opportunity to talk about overcoming pitfalls, your audience won’t want to make the same mistakes.

Monitor the back channel
Monitor the “backchannel” which are conversations in IRC, Meebo, or Twitter about your panel. After the very disruptive revolt at SXSW 2008, moderators and speakers need to pay attention to how the audience (customers) are responding to what’s happening on stage. As Web 2.0 expo, I scanned twitter via my mobile device in real time and made live changes. (added March 2008)


When to Assert Control

 

Never let panelists pitch
This one really irritates the audience, as they’ve spent time and money investing in a panel, they don’t want to hear vendor pitches. Typically, when one vendor talks about how great his company is, the next panelists will need to one-up, and it never ends. The moderator needs to pre-warn panelists that won’t tolerate this vile deed, and will cut them off in public, and that’s embarrassing for everyone. BTW: If you’re in the audience and you see this happen, you have a right as a customer to demand them to stop, if not, vote with your feet and complain to the organizers, or ask a pro-rated payment of your wasted time.

…but let them tell a case study
I prefer that panelists demonstrate their expertise by showing their experts in the field, or provide a case study how their customers have been successful. There is a very thin division between this and a vendor pitch, so it’s best to remember that a panel is more like a white paper, not a brochure.

Keep on track
Panels will often get off-track to new discussions, while that’s certainly normal, your job is to gently bring it back into context. You’ll have to re frame a question or ask for further explanation on the topic.

Redirect panel hogs
Although rare, some panelists will overstep themselves and overpower the other panelists. It’s your duty to find an appropriate time (watch for when they breathe) and interject in a nice way. Compliment their opinion, and be sure to pass a question to the deserving panelist. (Insights from a concall with Warren Pickett of Ad:Tech)


Interaction gives life to a panel

 

Listen in
Watch the body language of the panelists, the one who wants to get a word in will be giving you non-verbal indicators, the audience will give off vibes of attention, boredom, or even disagreement. You’ll find little disagreements between panelists, be sure to pick up on those to segue to the next panelists, ask them for a contradictory point of view. This can be difficult.

Let the panelists talk to each other
Don’t over structure your panel by leading into a moderator question and response pattern alone, allow for some healthy banter between the panelists, and let them chatter, jab, and joke among each other.

Know when to pass the mic
Don’t let any particular panelists dominate the session over others, you can interject between their breaths and quickly pose the same question to the other panelists. I realize this seems rude, but this is your job, you represent the audiences time

Know when to shut up
I’ve been a panelist many times, and have certainly been annoyed when some moderators go too far, they may try to make it more of a game show, insert too much humor, or answer the questions from the audience. Don’t be that guy. Success happens when good conversation starts to take place on it’s own, and you only need to gently guide.

Field questions from the audience
Always repeat the question from the audience, so everyone can hear and it’ll get on any recordings. Summarize long winded questions from the audience. Don’t let an over active commentator steal the show by asking too many questions, suggest that some discussion can be followed-up after the event. If there are no mics in the audience, you may need to walk down and bring the mic to them. Ensure that the questions are spread from different folks, and only let a single person ask a second question once everyone has had a chance.

Two Rules for Q&A: State your name, and make sure the question is a question
Questions are key to drive interaction, but before you take questions, let the audience know these two rules:  1) Get context from those that are asking questions on their name and company, this way the panelists can respond to first name to those who are asking, and have greater understanding. 2) Require that questions actually be questions.  We’ve all experienced the self-promoting pitch or the lengthy diatribe from an passionate audience member, so make sure the focus is still on the experts on stage.  The rest of the audience will appreciate it.


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Wrapping things up, Successfully

 

Ending the panel
Finally, at the end, let the members talk about where they can be found online, or where others can learn more about them. It’s best if you start, in order to set an example. “I work at company X in Y role, I can be found online at Z”. Thank the panel and audience, then prepare for the audience to come up to the stage and have 1:1 discussions.

Encourage the discussion to move online
Often the conversation between the panelists and members was so engaging that the never want to stop discussing it. Create a wiki, forum, or Facebook group to continue the conversation. Also assign tags at the session so that anyone who is blogging about it will be found. If you’re a blogger you may want to write up a wrap-up and link to anyone who took pictures. Thanks to Zena in the comments for this suggestion.

Final touches
Later, send a thank you email to all the panelists, keep in touch with them, and always cherish how well this has gone for you. Congratulations! you’ve just moderated a successful panel!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this how to guide, I’m often hired as a keynote speaker for business events, but have spent my fair share of time, also moderating panels.

This is just my perspective, be sure to read what others have written on this topic:

If this post helped you moderate a panel, or you’ve further suggestions, please leave a comment.

(images from: pexels, unplash, and again on unsplash)

Chart: Autonomous Cars Change Every Industry, Even Yours

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Above graphic: Autonomous vehicles impact every business model. This infographic illustrates some the many industries that will be impacted, from Insurance, Logistics, Retail, Auto, and Cities.

Though your company may still be adapting to social media technologies or Collaborative Economy disruptions, even more business model changes are coming. New autonomous technologies on the horizon are triggering greater acceleration of innovation programs to keep up. Google, Uber, Apple, Lyft, Tesla, BMW, Ford, Volvo, Yamaha, Mercedes, and other car manufacturers are working on producing self-driving cars, and the industry impacts will reverberate.

At Crowd Companies, we’re focusing on the autonomous world as the next phase of the Collaborative Economy, and define it asfollows:

Autonomous World: A future state when intelligent technology systems, operating without human participation, enable new business models in a more efficient society.

These intelligent technology systems can take the form of many hardware and software products, including self-driving vehicles, drones, and other artificial intelligence. The Autonomous World is our futuristic vision, with society experiencing an inevitable “semi-autonomous world” with minimal human interaction before fully autonomous systems are operable and dependable.

That’s right, the human drivers of taxis or Ubers will be cut out by robots who can do it better. Uber’s CEO elaborates further in BusinessInsider as to why they’re developing self-driving cars. Alphabet (formerly Google) is leading the way in self-driving car testing, and today it was even announced that autonomous cars could be considereddrivers.” Meanwhile, GM is close behind with its recent $500 million investmentin the development of an autonomous fleet utilizing Lyft’s platform exclusively.

Silicon Valley tech companies like Uber, Google, Tesla, and Apple are heavily investing in these autonomous cars, leading with a technology approach rather than with a traditional Motor City approach. Meanwhile, Detroit and other car manufacturers are opening up labs and innovation centers in Silicon Valley as they, too, strive to integrate tech.

We’re releasing this research-based infographic to the public, with a detailed report available to Crowd Companies members that further explores the industrial impacts of self-driving cars. In our research, we continually seek answers to two key questions:

  1. What role do humans play when robots do it better?
  2. What are the business strategies required to compete in the autonomous world?

At Crowd Companies, an innovation council, we recently hosted an event in Silicon Valley for our corporate members where we toured Stanford’s mobility lab, to see these vehicles first hand. Then, we held a panel of experts and council members responded to the impacts that are looming on the horizon from this next set of technologies. Brace yourself …more changes are coming soon.

The Collaborative Economy Sets the Stage for Autonomous Innovation

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First, we had the Internet Era, when a few people could publish online and e-commerce is born.

Then came the Social Media Age, when anyone could publish online using social tools, including brands. The digital communication floodgates were opened.

Today, many companies are trying to get their arms around the Collaborative Economy, as customers use common technologies to create and share products using P2P commerce. People increasingly get what they need from each other.

But, our digital evolution doesn’t stop with the Collaborative Economy. While we’re deepening our understanding of sharing behaviors, service marketplaces, and the Maker Movement, the next digital era is emerging: the “Autonomous World.” (See below image) In the Autonomous World, we see machines replace humans to deliver even greater convenience and efficiencies. The Collaborative Economy lays the necessary foundation for the Autonomous World to thrive.

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Above Image: The Four Digital Eras

How, exactly, does the Collaborative Economy lay the groundwork for new business models in the Autonomous World?

In the Collaborative Economy, people often access what they need from each other, rather than buying products for ownership. By gaining access to products and services through on-demand business models, customers reduce the need for ownership. Autonomous technologies like self-driving cars are going to extend the access model, by enabling cars to be hailed on-demand rather than having to own vehicles.

At Crowd Companies, we define the Autonomous World as follows:

[Autonomous World: A future state when intelligent technology systems, operating without human participation, enable new business models in a more efficient society]

These intelligent technology systems can take the form of many hardware and software products, including self-driving vehicles, drones, and other artificial intelligence. The Autonomous World is our futuristic vision, with society experiencing an inevitable “semi-autonomous world” with minimal human interaction before fully autonomous systems are operable and dependable.

Here’s an example: we’re already seeing the foundation laid for autonomous vehicle penetration in the ride-sharing and carpooling market of the Collaborative Economy. These services have grown significantly in recent years, with more than 11 million people in the United States utilizing ridesharing services today. By seamlessly ferrying customers at the tap of an app, Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, and others contribute to our increased preference of vehicle access over ownership. Eventually, when drivers are ousted in favor of autonomous cars, riders will experience more efficient routes, increased safety, and reduced transportation costs.

That’s right, the human drivers, whether they be taxis or Uber drivers, will be cut out by robots who can do it better. Alphabet (formerly Google) is leading the way, currently working on a ride-hailing service that utilizes its self-driving car fleet, while GM is close behind with its recent $500 million investment in the development of an autonomous fleet utilizing Lyft’s platform exclusively.

When intelligent technology systems operate with minimal human participation in the application of driverless cars, all industries must adapt to an inevitable transformation of societal behaviors and expectations. At Crowd Companies, we’re exploring these disruptions and impacts as our members chart new territory within their innovation programs.

We’re releasing a research-based infographic to the public this week that will further explore the industrial impacts of self-driving cars, and a more in-depth report exclusively to Crowd Companies members. In our research, we continually seek answers to two key questions:

  1. What role do humans play when robots do it better?
  2. What are the business strategies required to compete in the autonomous world?

I look forward to getting your feedback and would love to explore how our innovation council can help you weather the autonomous disruptions that lie ahead.

Auto industry goes head-to-head with Silicon Valley’s self-driving innovators

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Above: Daimler AG’s Dieter Zetsche and Mercedes executives with the new semi-autonomous Mercedes E-Class at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. Image Credit: Naias.com

This post originally published on VentureBeat, based on my recent trip to the Detroit Auto Show.

Google and Tesla may be pushing full-speed ahead in their self-driving car development and testing, but auto manufacturers aren’t sitting idly by. Judging from the outputs of this week’s North American Auto Show in Detroit, as well as CES in Las Vegas last week, it’s clear that incumbent car companies are rising to the challenges of competing in an autonomous world.

Silicon Valley startups and tech giants are launching many threats to the traditional auto industry as part of the Collaborative Economy movement, from ride- and car-sharing platforms like Lyft, Uber, RelayRides, and Getaround, to more recent innovations of autonomous cars that will further enable ride access over car ownership from Google, Uber, and others.

This is forcing brands like GM, Ford, BMW, and Mercedes to reconsider their product offerings to focus more on becoming “mobility companies” that offer an array of services that satisfy the needs of their evolving customers. These pivots are evident in a host of recent announcements of partnerships, investments, and new programs:

I had the privilege of attending the North American Auto Show this week in Detroit, as a guest of Ford, and it was obvious by the announcements and unveilings that car companies want to evolve into new markets — markets where they sell more than just cars. Ford’s CEO Mark Fields spoke during an event, boldly stating that, “We are a mobility company.” The same trend is evident in BMW’s new service offerings across the entire mobility experience. It’s about more than getting from point A to point B for today’s customer. The value proposition is shifting.

To break new ground, auto companies are becoming tech companies. They’re partnering with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, rather than building from scratch. They’re taking a page from startup playbooks and investing in peer-to-peer car-sharing and ride-sharing companies. Most importantly, they’re seeing new business models emerge and are quickly adapting to disruption.

They must enable rather than resist, leaning in to survive. This includes the building of autonomous vehicles that encourage “rides as a service” behaviors rather than ownership. Motor City may not be operating on as aggressive of a timeline as Silicon valley, but it has a seat at the table. Auto manufacturers are predicting self-driving car consumerization in three to four years, versus Tesla’s expectation of one year and Google’s current deployment of cars already in California.

We’re in the midst of a significant transition for auto companies as they realize a future where people may not want or need to own vehicles. These manufacturers must continue evolving in step with customer behaviors, offering access to vehicles and rides-as-a-service programs as expectations rise. Acquisitions will continue to make headlines as Detroit’s powerhouse manufacturers offer their expertise to Silicon Valley technologists and vice versa.

We can expect to see more changes in an exciting year ahead as auto companies become mobility services and tech companies become auto companies.

Here comes the Autonomous Vehicle Arms Race

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Above: Sci Fi movie Minority Report envisions a future of fast-moving networked cars

We’re one week out from the Detroit Auto show, 2016, which I’ll be attending. In this new market, many established auto manufactures have shown prototypes, made pronouncements, while young upstarts release their vehicles at CES, all while partnerships between established tech startups and traditional players are announced with great fanfare.

This new Autonomous World has evolved from the Collaborative Economy movement: Uber, Lyft, Didi, Ola, BlaBla have all taught us that we don’t need to own a car to achieve mobility. We can summon a car, on-demand, using an app, whisking us away to our location, without the frets of parking, the stress of driving, and associated management woes of vehicle support. The tenant of “access over ownership” is also driving the Autonomous Vehicle movement, the pains of managing a car can dissipate.

Before we move forward we must acknowledge when companies announce self-driving features, there’s a wide range of features, from driver assist (like helping to park) to autopilot features (auto slowing when a traffic jam is spotted ahead) to full autonomous like Google’s car –which lacks any steering wheel or pedals, learn about the four different phases of self driving maturity in this industry-referenced graph.

The purpose of this post is to aggregate the numerous self-driving car deployments in the industry show the acceleration as the next phase of technology disruption. At Crowd Companies, we’re hosting an event for our members, and launching a premium report that will answer questions on what the business models are of the future, when robots are more efficient than humans. To track this movement, I’ll aggregate (with your help) the players quickly moving into this Autonomous Vehicle market, listed in date order:


Autonomous Vehicle Arms Race Timeline:
While many car companies have secret prototypes testing away from prying eyes, the criteria of this will seek publicly referenced articles from credible source that include testing announcements, spotted prototypes or full blown unveilings.


A quick analysis indicates: the deployments are coming from three groups: 1) Established mainstay auto manufactures, 2) Upstart players, like Tesla, Faraday, 3) Tech startups like Baidu, Google, Uber, and supposedly Apple. There’s a variety of deployments from simple self valet parking, driver assist features, to full freeway driving management.

If you’ve updates, you can leave a comment below, or tweet at me at @jowyang, so we can collaboratively keep this list going, to show the acceleration of this arms race.

If you want to learn how these technology disrupt business models from hospitality, logistics, health and wellness, short haul airlines, insurance and more, this post outlines the major changes coming. The biggest question, which we plan to ask and answer is: “What role to humans play, when robots do it better?”

Welcome my friends, to the Autonomous World.

2016 Brings Additional Enrichment, Growth to Crowd Companies Innovation Council

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It’s almost a new year, and we have a lot planned for 2016 to help our members grow their Collaborative Economy programs here at Crowd Companies, which we founded two years ago. I wanted to share with you five items that we’re focused on:

  1. Content and discussions that focus on “how to” deploy in innovative markets,
  2. Leading our members through the six-phase Innovation Journey methodology,
  3. Over five physical events, plus private roundtable dinners for members,
  4. An additional topic focus, the “Autonomous World” (drones, self driving cars, AI)
  5. New employees, to serve our growing member base

Next year, we’ll focus even more on the “how to” of program development, providing the in-depth tools you need to determine opportunities and begin defining initiatives related to the Collaborative Economy, innovation, and other disruptive technologies. To do this, we have a number of offerings planned:

Building Out “Crowd Innovation Journey” Resources, a Roadmap for Business Change
If you attended our October Main Event in San Francisco, you’ll remember our Innovation Journey, a framework we developed to guide members through the six stages of program development, prototyping, and deployment (see below). 

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In 2015, we began organizing existing Vault resources by phase of Innovation Journey, and in 2016 we’ll be building out a series of useful tools that align with the initial stages of this journey. These tools may include:

  • Member Program Spotlights
  • Company Adoption Survey
  • Feasibility & Readiness Diagnostic
  • Use Cases by Industry Vertical
  • Business Case Template
  • Partner/Supplier Tools
  • Collaborative Economy Business Models Report

Hosting In-Person Events and Online Session, Group Calls
We have five in-person events planned for 2016 (with some additional regional roundtables in the works), in addition to your monthly session calls with industry thought leaders and group calls with fellow members. These events are included in your membership:

  • Tour and Salon: Future of Mobility in the Age of the Autonomous World, Jan. 21 | 3:30pm – 8:00pm | Silicon Valley
  • SXSW Brunch Member Panel and Social, March 12, 2016 | Austin, Texas
  • Spring Summit: Co-innovation for your Brand, April 28, 2016, with optional evening tour April 27 | Hallmark HQ, Kansas City, Missouri
  • European Summit: The Global Collaborative Economy, June 22, 2016 | BMW HQ, Munich, Germany
  • The Main Event, October 5-6, 2016 | San Francisco
  • Regional Roundtables,  Feb in NYC | Others to be determined

Expansion of Crowd Companies’ Topic Coverage: Autonomous World
As previewed by our kickoff event of the year, Crowd Companies will be broadening its coverage in 2016 to include additional topics that affect our innovative members. The council will continue to support its members as they deploy Collaborative Economy programs, while also expanding its focus to assist members as they adapt their business models to other tangential technologies that stem from these crowd movements.

The first focal point you’ll begin to see content and resources emerge around is what we’re calling the “Autonomous World” where robotic hardware and software perform tasks once performed by humans, often using the same business models from the collaborative economy. In January, we’ll be hosting a member event where we’ll examine the impact of self-driving vehicles, drones, and artificial intelligence on all industries and society as a whole. Also release a research report for members and and a related infographic for public consumption.

Adding a New Member Success Manager to our Crew
Finally, we’re pleased to announce the newest Crowd Companies staff member, Carl Bohlin, whose primary goal will be to understand our members needs, and strategically matching them to a variety of innovation resources that the council offers. Crowd Companies has over 200 members, spanning 50 companies, across multiple countries, as such, Carl will work with Angus on member success initiatives to assist the council in its growth along the Crowd Innovation Journey. He has more than 7 years experience in managing peer-to-peer councils at Forrester and Giga, and has a background in IT and financial services. Carl joins us on the east coast.

If you work for a large company, and want to learn more about membership, please submit your details to our online submission form2015 flew by, and I’m looking forward to growing with you all in 2016. Let’s keep the momentum going. Cheers to you and your loved ones in a prosperous new year!

Warm Regards,
Jeremiah