A successful panel discussion heavily relies on one key component: good moderation. You can invite the smartest minds in your industry to take to the stage but without mediation and structure, the best of intentions can often go awry.
Your job as moderator is to not only guide the conversation with insightful questions that get to the heart of the matter but to run to schedule, engage the audience and keep each and every panel member firmly on track.
With that in mind, here’s our list of some of the most important do’s and don’ts to help you moderate your way to a successful panel debate:
Do know your panel
Take the time to brush up on your guest speakers, their background and their work in the field. Doing so will not only make them feel valued, but will allow you to prepare relevant questions for each. Every panel member will have something unique to offer the discussion. Treat them as individuals, not as one generic group.
Do sit amongst your panellists
A moderator attempting to orchestrate proceedings from a distance will have far less control than one right in the thick of it. Placing yourself in amongst your panellists not only keeps the audience’s attention focused on the stage but allows you more control over the flow of conversation.
Do speak to your audience
Whilst your main purpose is to facilitate the conversation taking place on stage, the main purpose of the discussion is to engage and inform the audience. Let them know that they are part of it by addressing them as well as your panel. And of course, allow substantial time to open up the floor for comments and questions.
Do prepare more questions than you think necessary
There’s nothing worse than a discussion panel that runs out of steam. Your audience is there to be informed and entertained and it’s your job to make sure that happens. It’s far better to have to cut a discussion short than to attempt to fill time and fail.
Whilst an experienced moderator will have the skills to ad-lib, if you’re new to the game having back up questions on hand will be a huge benefit in the face of an awkward silence.
Do end on time
It’s more than likely that your panel discussion is part of a wider event and, as such, part of a carefully planned production schedule. Running over your allotted time will impact on everything that follows. Don’t be afraid to jump in where necessary to keep speakers on track and always be aware of the clock.
Don't offer up your own opinion
Your guest panel have been chosen for a reason. They are more than likely experts in their field and, whilst your own knowledge may be substantial, your role is to facilitate conversation, not to be part of it.
Consider yourself akin to a journalist. Your job is to ask relevant questions on behalf of the audience, to uncover the information they want to hear. There’s no reason why those questions can’t be controversial or probing, in fact in some cases its better if they are, but you must remain impartial.
Don't let panellists use their own slides
There are exceptions to this, for example, if the discussion makes direct reference to a visual matter. As a general rule of thumb however, discourage your speakers from using slides. The purpose of a panel is to discuss and debate. Slides have a tendency to distract attention and stunt the free flow of conversation.
Don't allow the panel to introduce themselves
Doing so opens up the floor for long-winded introductions that bare little relevance to the topic at hand. A well organised event will have an accompanying programme inclusive of everything your attendees need to know about your panellists. Your job as moderator is to introduce them succinctly and get the ball rolling.
Don't be afraid to go off script
It’s important to have a blueprint for your discussion, but the beauty of conversation is its fluidity. As long as the discussion remains relevant, allow it to unfold naturally. A good moderator will pick up on a change of direction and have the confidence to run with it.
Don't ask your guest speakers for final thoughts
You have a time frame to stick to. Allowing the panel to offer up one final thought can open up a whole new avenue of discussion and take you drastically over schedule. A good moderator will use a forward looking question or remark to round up proceedings and draw the discussion to a natural close.
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