Amazing Moderator: How to run a panel

Being A Great Panel Moderator

Panels are often dull, uninspiring and not relevant to the audience. A lot depends on the panelists, but even then the moderator’s job is key. Your job is to be an “invisible hand” that makes great conversations happen.


Preparation Stage

1.Know the main aspects of the subject at least as well as most of the panelists so that you can steer the discussion.

2. Try and interview the panelists at least a week or so before the panel.

3. Prepare a set of possible questions organised by topic,

The best way to prepare this list of questions is to base them on panelists interviews and your research

4.Prepare your list of attention-uppers : 

  • provocative statements
  • Out-of-the-box thoughts,
  • observations ( to add fun)

If possible get the panelists together for a drink or a short meet up before the panel. The conversation will be more natural if they have “bonded.”

 Managing the Panel


Start Strong including a “Grabber” Statement

Share something about yourself

 Tell people:

Why they’re there

What’s going to happen – it’s very important tell them a bit about the format and the timing.

Now’s the time also to set out ground rules for the panel about time ….  So that we get to hear everyone we are going to ask you guys to keep your answers short and snappy and not more than 1 minute…..

Introducing the Panel Members:

Have a well-prepared short intro for each panelist or ask them to introduce themselves in thirty seconds. Make sure you know how to pronounce their names.

Current Position

Real Expertise

Something else interesting e.g fun fact

Managing the Discussion

As a rule you’ll never get through more than three broad issues in a single panel, so be careful not to try and cover too much.

Have an overall planned discussion arc so you are constantly monitoring where you are on the way to closing the arc, but be ready to manage interesting twists and turns.

Ask short questions and make clear statements. Questions should be short and direct. Who? What? Why? What about?

Visibly and audibly keep the panelists on track.

Be ready to encourage back and forth conversations within the panel.

Look at both the panelists and the audience. Look at the panel, ask a question, and then look at the audience. Do not continue eye contact with the panelists because you want them to speak directly to the audience, not to the moderator.

Summarize complex answers  in a way that makes sense, even if has nothing to do with their question.

Bring out the best in the panelists

Give them a few easy questions that they can answer well. For example, “What do you view as the most pressing issues of the industry?”

Extract good information out of the panelists by rephrasing, summarizing, or clarifying what they said.

Manage time

Take charge to be the audience’s advocate on time. Get the panel started on time, keep it moving, and get it done on time.

Try to prevent one panel member dominating the discussion. One of the best ways to do this is to set out the ground rules about time at the beginning.

So that we get to hear everyone we are going to ask you guys to keep your answers short and snappy and not more than 1 minute…..

But if you have to can interrupt politely by using one of these ways.

We need to honour our stop time….

I’d like to get x’s view on this 

That’s a really good point but …..

That’s interesting but …..

Moving on from this subject ….

Can I just say something here?

Can I stop you there for a moment?

Can I just butt in for a second?

Can I just mention something?

Can I just add something here?

Do you mind if I come in here?

Before you co, I’d like to say something.

Excuse me for interrupting but……

Excuse me for butting in but…..

Sorry for interrupting but….

Just a moment, I’d like to….

If I could just come in here. I think….

You could add “Sorry “before these – e.g Sorry, Can I just hear the other opinions on that ….

Audience Questions

You should always leave time for audience questions unless the panel session is so short that there is not time. Moderators should allocate approximately 20 – 30% of the duration of the panel to questions from the audience. Any more, and the audience will run out of high-quality questions. Any less and the audience will feel like it did not participate.

Just in case no one has any good  questions, always have a few good questions in your hip pocket. Or, even better, you could ask a couple of people who will be in the audience  to ask question in advance.



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