How To Moderate a Great Panel

How many times have you watched a panel and thought it was entertaining and informative? Hated it and left?

Talk to the moderator.

Moderating a panel is much more than showing up to toss out a few ill-prepared questions to a panel of experts.

Moderating a panel can be deceptively hard because the quality of the panelists may be beyond your control.

Think of it this way, when you moderate a panel you have an opportunity to entertain and inform the audience through your panel members and with a little preparation, you can be on the right track to filling the seats.


Be sure the panel topic is one that will benefit from a variety of experiences, points of view or approaches and then do your homework. Research current data, industry trends, and hot buttons. Research your panelists.

Determine the pace of the panel. Is it a deliberate build-up to the main point, rapid fire, or something in between? Be careful with your pacing. You will see more backsides than eyeballs if the the audience has to wait too long to get what they came for.

Contact your panelists before hand to ask what they'd like to talk about, discuss your expectations for the panel, and identify the points you as a panel want the audience to leave with.

Prepare more questions than you think you'll need. I recently prepared questions (enough for a full day session) and assigned them to panel members so they could be prepared with thoughtful answers. For spontaneity, I'd think twice before I prepared panelists to this extent again.

Plan to be a moderator and NOT a panel member. Repeat after me: plan to be a moderator and NOT a panel member. This is not the time to test out portions of your keynote.


Audience members are arriving (phew!) so you know there is something about the session that is drawing them in. Now, it's time to deliver.

Briefly introduce yourself. Tell the audience just what they need to know to understand why you are moderating this panel.

Introduce the panel members or have them introduce themselves. I've done both. Next time, as Judy Clemens writes in her Moderator's Manifesto: How To Moderate a Great Panel, I am not going to do introductions as introductions. I will weave them into my questions.

What else?

Depart from your script. "Realize your script, your prepared questions, is only a guideline. Ideally," Judy writes, "your questions will provoke panelists to riff on each other's responses."

Move the podium if you are not able to see your panelists, have a wireless mic so you can be mobile, consider timers for your panel table, brush up on your intervention and redirection skills, be professional at all times and have fun.


Leave time for audience questions. Honor the clock and respect your audience by ending on time. Thank the audience and panel members as you close and be sure to let the audience know how that can contact you and the panel members. Come from around the table or podium and down off the stage to speak with your guests.

Critique, consider or question (but don't beat yourself up). What went well, what did not go as well as you had expected and what what could you do differently next time?

So, what's worked for you or what have you seen work for other moderators? What have you vowed to never do (or never do again) as a moderator?

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