Months ago you were asked to moderate a panel discussion, and without thinking through what that really meant, you said, “of course, I would love to”. It seemed like an easy way to network and market your business- how hard could it be? Well, you just got an email from the panel organizer with the date and time confirmed and the contact information for the panelists. Now you’re feeling a little anxious- this might not be as easy as you thought.
Here are 6 tips to successfully moderating a panel.
1. Define the panel topic very clearly and make sure that all the panelists are on the same page. This may sound obvious, but it essential that the topic is clearly understood by everyone and that each person knows what he or she is expected to contribute.
2. Be prepared. The best moderators prepare questions in advance (practice asking them) and think about how each panelist will be included in the discussion. Arrange a conference call with the panelists to learn about their backgrounds and expertise, and discuss how he or she is relevant to the specific topic.
3. Set the tone for the panel right away. Welcome the audience warmly, give a brief introduction, and invite your panelists to introduce themselves (in 30 seconds or less).
4. Ask only one question at a time. It is very hard for panelists to answer a question that has many questions or sub-parts. You can ask follow up questions, but try to keep each question very clear and simple.
5. Know how you will “cut off” the panelist who monopolizes the conversation. Phrases such as “thank you, Karen for that explanation, and we would now like to hear Neil’s view” is a good one. Keep an eye on the time so you can switch gears when needed and keep things moving.
6. Engage the audience with energy, humor, and questions. If irrelevant questions are asked, try to redirect the conversation back to the original topic. You can respond kindly with “thanks for your question about caring for your aging parents. That relates nicely to the point about managing your life outside of work and moving up in your organization.”
Finally, remember that it’s not about you. Your job is to facilitate an interesting conversation for the audience, and if you do that effectively, you will showcase your skills, expertise, and personality.