Moderating a Panel: Best Practices

How to Moderate a Panel

Moderating a panel is more than a privilege; it is a developed skill with a definitive role and expectation when guiding a panel discussion. Whether the panel is virtual or in-person, standard best practices will hold true. In order to deliver a valuable and entertaining experience for both the panelists and the audience, a moderator needs to know and respect their important contribution.

The moderator is essentially both the producer and host of the experience. Prepping the flow of the discussion and communicating with the panelists well in advance is critical to the success of the live event.

Prepping for the Event

Flesh Out Your Discussion

What is the theme, and how is it relevant to the audience? Don’t make your theme too broad; give it a focus topic.

If you are booking the panelists yourself, create diversity by booking experts with varying perspectives. Get individual voices that can lend insights from unique vantage points. That may be someone from an ancillary industry or a customer rather than a panel of direct industry experts. The last thing you want is a group of people who agree and have the same things to say.

Reach Out to Your Panelists In Advance

Connect with them by phone and on social media. Let them know the theme of the discussion and ask each of them for three to four questions that they suggest you ask around that particular topic. Learn their areas of expertise and what they bring to the table.

Introduce the Panelists to Each Other

Do this as soon as you have the group solidified, and encourage them to connect on social media — including reading each other’s bios. You don’t want your panelists meeting for the first time on stage. You want them to understand beforehand what each one brings to the discussion. This will also build some chemistry with the group before the event itself.

Marketing the Event

You have likely been invited to be a moderator as an influencer or a sponsor/advertiser. You have a deep professional circle, and you should tell your circle that you will be moderating a beneficial discussion and invite them to participate. The event hosts are looking to you to help them expand their reach by combining your circles of influence.

Promote your participation on social media and give massive shout-outs to your panelists and your host in your posts and tag them — because they’re influencers, too. And, they will likely share, comment, and like your post if they are tagged. Consider sending a well-written, visually appealing email blast with clickable links to your database, too. The more participants you bring to the event, the more likely you will be invited to moderate again.

Running Your Panel

During the event, you are considered the host of the show. Here are some suggestions for running a professional, engaging panel discussion:

  1. The success of the panel discussion depends on your ability to manage the audience and the panel guests. 90% of the content should come from the panelists.
  2. Not everybody on the panel should answer every question. As a moderator, you must guide each question to a particular person or persons — and be prepared to cut them off if they go too long. This is why it’s important that you understand their specific areas of expertise.
  3. The way to get good questions from the audience is to start by asking them to think about good questions in the beginning, such as, “I have four questions that I’m going to ask the panelists, and then we will turn it over to you. So, start thinking of your questions now.”
  4. Begin the event with a short welcome and overview of your discussion. Do a brief introduction of the panelists — no need to read their bios because likely the audience will have already read them in the event marketing. You should introduce your panelists — don’t make them introduce themselves. This is the gold standard for any interview. Keep the welcome and introduction section short because this will set the pace of the discussion and the audience’s energy from the start.
  5. When asking the audience for questions, direct each question to a specific panelist whom you think is best equipped to answer it. If you’re uncertain, you can also ask the panel, “Who here wants to answer this one?” Be sure to ask the panel if anyone else has something to add before moving on, but there is no need to pass the mic down the line to everybody. Keep the conversation flowing and evolving.
  6. Have some backup questions in your pocket to pull out as the conversation shifts directions or if the audience isn’t coming up with questions. Your list of pre-determined questions should be used as tools in your toolbox to pull out as necessary. Get to the must-ask questions before you move to audience Q&A.
  7. Keep a close eye on the time to allow each panelist to speak and ensure adequate time for Q&A. It may help you to build a written rundown with timing built-in to keep you on track and able to wrap on time.

Multi-managing the timing, content flow, and human interaction is a learned skill that, like anything, will improve with each opportunity you are given. Adequate preparation will be the key to your success every single time.