Secrets To Moderating A Panel Session

The best panel sessions are the ones where good ideas are exchanged
The best panel sessions are the ones where good ideas are exchangedImage Credit: NHS Confederation

As speakers, we are seen as being skillful at all types of speeches. Although we may generally see speaking as writing a speech and then getting up on a stage and delivering that speech, it turns out that due to the importance of public speaking there are many different forms that speaking can take. One of the more common ones is being asked to moderate a panel session. The people on the panel, the smart people, are not necessarily speakers and so it is going to be your job to find ways to allow them to share what they know in a way that your audience will be able to understand. If you were asked to moderate a panel session, would you know how to go about doing it?

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Just like when you are asked to give a speech, the key to hosting a successful panel session is to make sure that you have taken the time to properly prepare. If selecting the people who are going to be on the panel has been left up to you, you are going to have to go about doing this correctly. What you are going to want to do is to make sure that your panel members are diverse. Nobody wants to see four copies of the same person. You need to make sure that they have the expertise to talk about the panel topic. You need to double check to make sure that they can eloquently express themselves. You also have to make sure that they will arrive prepared to be on the panel.

In order to put on a good show you need to spend some time creating a welcome for the panel and for the audience. A key part of this welcome is going to be the proper introduction of your panel members. The good news is that the biographies of the panel members will probably be in the material that has been given to the audience members and so your introduction can be short. A good way to go about doing this is to create a single slide per panel member with their name, photo, and perhaps their Twitter handle on it.

Before things get started, you are also going to want to select the Q&A format that you are going to want to use. One of the things that you’ll have to decide on is when you will be willing to take audience questions. You don’t have to wait until the panel session is over with to take questions – you could take them either along the way or have breaks for them during the session. You’ll have to decide how you’ll take questions. Will people have to line up at microphones or will you have “runners” with microphones go to where the person with the question is sitting?

Make Your Panel Session Memorable

In order to have a good panel session, it’s going to be up to you to keep things moving along. In order to make this happen you need to have taken the time to prepare the panelist for the session. You also have to have shown up with some good questions that you can use to kick things off. With a little luck, once you’ve done this, the conversations will start to flow by themselves. You will want to get different members of your panel to comment on things that other panel members have said. You’ll need to be flexible and follow the conversation where it goes.

One of the most important things that a panel moderator can do is to insert callbacks into the panel session. This is a form of humor. A callback occurs when you mention something that happened previously during the panel session. What you really want to do is to remember something that was said or done that caused your audience to laugh. Later in the panel session you will want to reference this event once again. Your audience will enjoy it when you use a callback and it will make it look like you have a good sense of humor.

It is your responsibility to let your audience know when the end of the panel session is drawing near. You can let them know by saying something like “It looks like we are just about done. Here are a few things that we need to cover as we wrap up…” Once you’ve said this, you can summarize the discussion and talk about how the conversation can be continued beyond the panel session. Make sure that your audience knows how they can contact the members of your panel and use this opportunity to promote the agendas of each of your panel members. Once you’ve done this you can make a final announcement, thank your panel members, and wrap things up with a round of applause.

What All Of This Means For You

As a speaker, it is only a matter of time before someone comes to you because of the benefits of public speaking and asks you to moderate a panel session. Although this is a great complement, it is also very different from getting up on a stage and giving a speech. As a panel moderator your goal is to deliver a panel session that you audience will find interesting and which they will be able to remember. In order to do this, you’ve got to know some things about how to run a successful panel session.

If you are lucky enough to be given the opportunity to select your panel session members, then you’ve got some work to do. You are going to want to select people that will be interesting to your audience. You want panel members who are diverse, who have expertise, who can speak eloquently, and who will come prepared. As the moderator you will need to show up with a good welcome prepared that allows you to introduce your panel members. In order to add some humor to the panel session consider using callbacks to reference things that were said earlier in the discussions. Finally, when it comes time to wrap things up, state that you are at the end and provide a summary of the discussion before thanking your panel members.

Being able to deliver a speech is a great talent to have. Being able to moderate a panel discussion that is both interesting and can be remembered is even better. In order to make sure that a panel session that you are responsible for goes well, you need to make sure that you have the right people on it. Once you’ve done this, then you need to get up there and run it so that your audience gets the most out of it. Remember, it’s your panel session and so it’s your responsibility to make sure that it goes well!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: When you are in charge of a panel session, how many people do you think that you should try and have on the panel?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Communicator Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Communicator Newsletter are now available. Subscribe now: Click Here!

Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I think that we can all agree that giving a speech is a difficult thing to do. If you’d like to make things just a bit more difficult, then try to give your speech to a global audience. Now we’re talking about a real challenge! The reason that addressing a global audience and sharing the importance of public speaking with them is so difficult to do well is because of the differences between you and them. The way that you see the world and the way that you express yourself is very different from the way that the rest of the world sees things. This means that what you are trying to say in your speech may become garbled or confused and you may not be able to clearly communicate your points. What’s a speaker to do?