Leading the Conversation: 7 Tips for Panel Moderators

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I’ve always been an event geek, it’s one of the reasons I started FindSpark. Over the years, I’ve moderated dozens of panels through FindSpark and at other events such as SXSW Interactive, Social Media Week, and Internet Week.

Panels are a great way to get a lot of interesting tips and pointers from experts, but the quality of the panel really depends on one person: the moderator.

Whether a student or established professional, moderating a panel is a great way to get exposure and excellent public speaking practice. Moderating a panel is often a more difficult job than being a panelist. It’s up to you to keep the conversation fast-paced, interesting, and the panelists engaged.

Below are my top tips for panel moderation success.

Emily-Miethner-Moderating-FindSpark-Panel

Learn a ton about your fellow panelists

Touching base with your fellow panelists before the event will help guide the conversation. Additionally, spending time on their social media profiles, website, and company website, will enable you to ask better, more specific questions. For our conferences and events, we ask panelists to arrive an hour before their panel. The main goal of this is so everyone can get to know each other. You can use this time to ask if anyone has any stories they definitely want to share, or topics they want to stay away from.

Include personal context in questions

“How do you use LinkedIn for networking?” vs. “I like to use LinkedIn to keep in touch with people I’ve already met in real life. How do you find most people are using the tool?” Robotic vs. personal. I like personal. You’re chosen to moderate a panel because you have expertise and experience around the topic. Adding your own anecdotes into questions is absolutely acceptable.

Direct your questions at specific people

Speaking with your panelists ahead of time will enable you to direct questions at each speaker, instead of throwing questions out to the panel as a whole. This will help you avoid awkward silences or people talking over each other. Plus, having everyone answer every question can get repetitive and usually takes too much time. By ensuring each question is answered by one or two specific people, no one will dominate the panel or get left behind because they aren’t as aggressive.

Put your questions in a logical order

Depending on your topic, it might make sense to list your questions in a certain order. For instance, when I moderated a panel, “Inside the Mind of HR” (pictured above) I started with the online application, then asked about the interviews, and ended with follow-up etiquette.

Be willing to go with the flow

You should prepare questions in advance, but be willing to let speakers elaborate on certain topics or questions. Keep the panel conversational by letting speakers piggy back off of each other’s answers and feel free to skip around your question list when it makes sense.

Listen to the answers

A big mistake many moderators make is that they ask the question, immediately turn off and focus on asking the next, instead of listening to the answer. As long as you’re staying on topic, a certain answer might lead the conversation elsewhere, and that’s ok. Someone also might end up answering two questions in a row. If you’re not paying attention and you ask it again later on, you’ll make it awkward for your panelists.

Keep track of the time

It’s easy to lose track of time, so don’t be afraid to glance at your watch or have someone sitting front row giving you the 10, 5, and 1 minute countdown.

 

Have you moderated panels? What are your favorite tips? Have you seen any panels gone wrong? Please share in the comments!

Do you want to reach your full potential? Are you looking to take the next step in your career? Apply to attend FindSpark Next, a full-day conference on Saturday, September 17th that will prepare you to take on new challenges in the workplace. Apply here: findspark.com/next

 

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