As a moderator, you are the proverbial ringleader of a great panel discussion. Sure, your panelists might be the main attractions, but without a quality moderator discussions can devolve, get off track, or be monopolized by a single voice. Being a good moderator requires a mixture of skills including public speaking, understanding the audience, allowing for lively debate, and time keeping (which is more important than you might think).
If you are preparing for a panel moderation, you ought to follow the tips below.
Know the Facts So You Can Direct the Conversation
Every now and then you might hear that moderators are the “face” of a panel, not the brains. This might be okay for celebrity moderators. But in most cases, the moderator should have a least some connection to subject matter of the panel. CEOs, journalists or other experts are perfect examples. Don’t let your wisdom or expertise go to waste. Use your knowledge to ensure that important information and diverse viewpoints come to the surface.
Then again, you should be careful not to monopolize the conversation yourself. It’s really about striking a careful balance between directing the conversation and adding to it. To do this effectively, you’ll need to understand each of the speakers, their backgrounds and, of course, the panel topic itself. This requires plenty of planning and research before the big day.
That being said, a personality and charisma are still important. This is a lot to juggle, but that’s why you’re the ringleader!
Own the Question & Answer Sessions
As a moderator, you are sure to have a number of leading questions up your sleeve. But don’t forget to pull in the audience into the Q&A. In most cases, panel moderators prefer to save listener questions for the end. This leaves plenty of room for the main discussion. However, there are ways to pulling audience questions into the main portion of the discussion without losing the proper cadence. Interactive polling tools like Poll Everywhere can streamline panel moderation, thus allowing for real-time exchanges between audience members and panelists.
How do these technologies work? Basically, they allow audience members to use mobile devices to ask questions. These are then shared with the moderator who can point the most appropriate queries at the panelists. It’s not mandatory, of course. But it can steer the panel discussion in interesting directions, while making attendees feel heard and valued.
Remember to Keep Things on Track
It’s far more likely that panel discussions will run over rather than run short. That’s okay. There’s always more to talk about, right? While that may be true. It’s your duty to make sure things end in a timely manner. As one Harvard Business Review contributor puts it, “You are an airline pilot. It’s your job to land this baby on time.”
Ending on time is really about respecting everyone’s time. This goes double for panel discussions that happen during business conferences because folks need to shuffle off to their next talk; or to lunch!
Don’t let things run long. Give warnings to your panelists to wind things down 10 minutes before the conclusion.
Prep for the Unexpected
You need to be quick witted if you are going to be an effective moderator. Maybe your need to diffuse tension between two or more panelists. Maybe you’ll need to politely shutdown a rambling audience member’s question. You never know what you might have to deal with, so prepare for the unexpected.
These have just been a few tips regarding panel moderation. There’s always more to learn, so do your homework, practice your skills and stay attentive during the panel discussion. Follow these tips and you’ll do swell!