How to Moderate a Panel

Know what to do and what to avoid with these 11 tips for successfully moderating a panel.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #166

#5: Beware of stories. Stories are entertaining and memorable, and panelists love to tell them. But very few people can tell stories well. Most people ramble. Be sure stories move the discussion along. If you ask panelists to "tell their story," you're in dangerous territory. Ask panelists for their opinions about specific issues or events. Ask them to analyze a situation, or speculate on a future development, or do a role-play where they apply their brilliance real-time. "Tell me about why you want to dominate the world." Boring. You'll get six variations of "because the other kids gave me wedgies in elementary school." Instead ask, "If wedgies provide your moral justification for world domination, do you think you'll be able to raise enough support among the masses?" That's a speculation question, and likely to get much more thoughtful responses.

#6: Don't offer your own opinions. Sad, but true. The audience is there to see you moderate, not be a panelist. If you offer your own opinions, you look like you're trying to hog time from the panelists. Do this only if your panel  consists entirely of unbelievable bores, and you can bring down the house with your impromptu comedy routines. And certainly, never offer your opinion or tell a panelist they're stupid.

Let another panelist say it instead. That brings us to..

#7: Get ‘em fighting. Notice where panelists disagree, and ask about that. Hearing six people say the same thing? Boring! Watching two people leap over their chairs and try to strangle each other with the microphone cord? Way cool! Remember those glasses of water you gave the panelists at the start? Now they have something to throw. Use conflict to keep it fun. Otherwise, your audience may fall asleep, especially if it's after lunch.

#8: Come back to the juicy bits. You may cut a panelist short so someone else can speak. Keep notes so you can go back to the person you cut off and have them finish their point if it's still relevant. Panelists love this, and it makes you look brilliant.

#9: Summarize. Jot notes so when you come back to a panelist, you can use your notes to summarize panelists' previous points so they needn't repeat them.

#10: Call on people. If the audience is full of raised hands, call on them! But beware panelist wannabes in the audience! They'll use Q&A to hijack the session. When you call on someone, say "The Gentleperson in the red mumu, please give me your question in one sentence." Then cut them off if they go beyond 3 sentences.

#11: Wrap up by thanking the panelists. Say "Thank you. You've been a great panel. (to audience) You've been a great audience. Let's give the panelists a hand." When the room erupts into applause, close your eyes and pretend they're applauding for you. At least you'll get something out of the experience.

Thank you, you’ve been a great audience.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Speaker Panel image courtesy of Shutterstock



About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.