10 Tips for Moderating a Panel
You have been tapped as the moderator for a panel discussion. Yes, no problem, you say. Then the initial thrill passes, and you start doubting yourself. I’ve spoken on panels before, but I don’t know how to moderate.
Here’s what I think: You have everything it takes to be a great moderator.
Moderating a panel is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. You control the topic. You get to know the 3-4 industry colleagues on a personal level. You influence the tone of the event by your personality and energy.
Kudos to you for saying Yes! Now follow this game-plan and your panel will be a success.
#1 DO – CREATE AN OUTLINE
Good outlines are about one page. Start with the title, a brief description of the topic and 5-6 big questions or themes you plan to address. Pull a few statistics to frame the discussion. I like to include bios and headshots. As the moderator, you have spoken to everyone, but they may not know one another. Circulate the outline the evening before to help refresh everyone in advance.
#2 DO NOT – WRITE A SCRIPT
Scripted conversations are BORING.
#3 DO – GET TO KNOW YOUR PANELISTS IN ADVANCE
I recommend brief 20 minute calls with each panelist before the event. You need to uncover both expertise and personality so you can present them in a warm and friendly light during the discussion and play to their strengths.
#4 DO NOT – COORDINATE CALLS OVER AN EMAIL CHAIN
Avoid annoying your panelists by going back and forth over email trying to schedule a call for five busy people. Here’s how to do it: (1) Set up your availability using a digital tool (e.g. Calendly); (2) Email the link to panelists; and (3) with one click, each panelist books a call.
Here’s a pro tip from one of our favorite moderators:
Consider NOT having the obligatory pre-conference group call. A pre-call can script your panel. Without spontaneity, the panel can loses its energy and spark. Instead, send each panelist a short list of simple to answer questions — I like to have them strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with a statement. Make sure they can respond under 7 minutes.Helen Quick, Managing Director, Locust Partners
#5 DO – PLAY THE HOSTESS
Your smiling face and warm welcome will set the tone for the whole audience. Have you ever hosted a dinner party with people who don’t know each other? It’s sort of like that only, imagine there’s an audience of 100 people watching and evaluating the discussion.
#6 DO NOT – READ EVERYONE’S BIOS ALOUD
Again, that’s pretty dull. Instead, try kicking off with an open ended question that allows the panelists to introduce themselves in a story.
#7 DO – ENGAGE THE AUDIENCE
If the audience feels neglected, they will lose interest. Engage them right from the start with a “Raise of Hands” poll. Comment on their reactions, especially any humor.
#8 DO NOT – STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT
You should provide brief opening remarks and offer context before a question, but you do not want to compete with the panelists for air time. Ask the questions, and let them speak.
#9 DO – PLANT A QUESTION
The moderator calls for Q&A and…crickets. So uncomfortable! It deflates the panelists and can change the audience’s perception of the panel, even if they enjoyed the discussion. Always plant a question. It’s not cheating. It’s just an icebreaker. A lot of times, listeners don’t want to ask the first question, but they’ll raise their hand for the second and third.
#10 DO NOT – GO OVER TIME
Be an advocate for the audience. Even if the discussion was thrilling, people are ready to get up and move after 45 minutes. Always remember, you may be the only thing standing between your audience and a cocktail.
Lindsay Burton is the Founder and President of Kayo Conference Series LLC. Kayo brings like-minded women together to create strong business connections, achieve their professional goals and pave the way for women in the future.
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