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Eight Tips on How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

by PowerSpeaking, Inc.     Mar 6, 2015 3:43:00 PM

John: “This has got to be the most boring panel I’ve ever heard.”
Bill: “That first speaker went on for 15 minutes. Why didn’t somebody stop him?”
John: “And you can’t hear them. They all seem to be afraid of the microphone.”
Bill: “Why doesn’t the moderator take charge?”
John: “I’d rather be out shooting a game of golf. That would be a better use of my time.”
Bill: “You got that right. Let’s go.”


and out the door they go because of a mismanaged panel.

The panel discussion can be a powerful presentation format. It also can be a disaster if poorly managed. If you are invited to organize and/or moderate a panel, what can you do to ensure success? Here are eight tips to moderate a succesful panel discussion.

  • Panel Members—Obviously you want to choose people who have something to say. But it is equally important that you avoid people who are self-centered egomaniacs. The panel discussion is a team event. Invite people who are good team players. As much as possible, select panel members to reflect audience demographics, i.e., gender, ethnicity, age, income levels, etc.


  • Timing—If you have a high need to be liked by everyone, forget being a panel moderator. An effective moderator is a bit like a traffic cop. Your first responsibility is to your audience. Your job is to keep the panel members within their time limits.
  • Expectations—When inviting people to join your panel, let them know very clearly and directly what the limits are on their presentations. Also, let them know that you will verbally interrupt them and stop them if they exceed their time limits.
  • Physical Setup—Since panel members will be seated, always request a podium (raised platform) or a stage so the audience can see them. You may have people seated at a table or just seated in a semicircle. In either case, the best position for the moderator is in the middle. This gives you greater visual contact with all the panel members and also gives you a strong position from which to control the flow.
  • Microphones—Microphones can be a real pitfall for a panel. Panel members are most often not professional speakers, and usually a microphone intimidates them. If panelists don’t use the mic, they won’t be heard—which means the audience will become bored. (That’s when John and Bill decide to spend the afternoon on the golf links.)

Make sure you have at least one microphone per two panel members. Show panelists how to use it in advance. Encourage them to move it closer or take it in hand each time they speak. If they forget, stop them in their presentation to remind them. (Do not be afraid to interrupt panel speakers to correct logistical problems.) The audience will thank you for it.

  • Audience Participation —A great way to cap off your panel discussion is to allow time for the audience to get involved. The audience may address questions to the panel as a whole or to individual members. If it’s a smaller audience with no microphone, make sure you repeat the question so all can hear. With a larger group, provide a mic for audience participation.
  • Your Role —Remember the traffic cop image. It’s your job to keep everyone within the time constraints. You also need to remain neutral in terms of the content. Encourage panel members to have a big finish to wrap up—and to keep it short.


  • Show AppreciationAs you finish, thank the audience for their attention and participation. Then with great enthusiasm, thank the panel members and encourage the audience to give them a strong round of applause.

If you follow these simple eight but essential tips, your panel will be a great success. Who knows, you may be able to keep John and Bill in their chairs rather than on the first tee!


Download the 8 Tips on How to Moderate a Panel Discussion  


You can also check out our colleague Kristen Arnold's Powerful Panels website for additional information and recent blogs: http://powerfulpanels.com.


Related Blog Posts: How to Beat the Snooze Factor, Set Yourself Apart As An Extraordinary Conference Speaker and Introductions: A Winning Game Plan For Any Conference


About the Author

PowerSpeaking, Inc.

Topics: Presentation Tips, Delivery Style, Presentation Skills, Audience Involvement, Presentation Preparation, Audience Retention, Conferences

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