How A Speaker Can Moderate A Panel Discussion

A panel discussion is all about finding a way to exchange ideas
A panel discussion is all about finding a way to exchange ideas
Image Credit: AIGA/NY

For some odd and strange reason, people seem to think that just because we can do a good job of giving a speech we’d also be able to moderate a panel discussion. You know what I’m talking about: one of those events where you get a group of people up on a stage and have them talk about something that the audience is interested in. What you may not have realized is that each one of these events has someone running the show – they kick it off, keep the speakers on track, and then wrap things up when times up. If you get asked, that person is going to be you – will you be ready?

Pick The Right People

If you are going to moderate a panel discussion, you want to make sure that you have the right people on your panel in order to showcase the importance of public speaking. One of the most important things that you’ll want to keep in mind when you are sending out invitations to participate is that you’d like to have a diverse panel. You want your panel to represent your audience but at the same time have differing thoughts and opinions. You’ll also want to invite people with expertise in what they will be talking about. The people that you invite to participate in your panel should be good speakers and they need to be willing to come prepared.

Do Your Research

Nobody can moderate a panel discussion without first having done their homework. Since you’ll be the person who kicks things off and has the responsibility for introducing the people who will be on your panel, this means that long before the panel event you need to make sure that you’ve collected all of your facts. The first thing that you’ll have to do is to make sure that you have a good understanding of who will be on your panel: their backgrounds, the reason that they are on the panel, and what opinions they hold. Next you need to make sure that you fully understand the topic that will be discussed. Finally, you need to make sure that you realize what your audience will want to get out of coming to hear your panel discussion.

Choose The Right Panel Format

A panel format has to do with how you are going to organize the members of your panel while they are on the stage. The traditional way to stage your panel is to have a table placed on the stage and then you drape a covering over it and have everyone sit behind it. This, of course, works, but it’s not the only way to go about doing this. As an alternative, you could consider having bar stools placed on the stage and then have your panelists sit on them. You could also arrange the seats in a semicircle so that your panelists are facing each other.

Craft Both A Welcome And Introductions

As the panel moderator you are going to be the person who is responsible for introducing your panel members to your audience. You are not going to want to talk for a long time as you make these introductions. They need to be brief and memorable. You need to remember that longer biographies for your panel members are probably available in material that has been put together to support the panel session. If you’ll be using slides when you introduce the people on your panel, make sure that you show them in the order that the people are sitting on the stage (left to right or right to left) and include a headline and even perhaps their Twitter username.

Come With Questions

One way to look at a panel discussion is to think of a bonfire. These types of fires don’t just start by themselves, instead a small fire has to be started first. This small fire is going to be your responsibility. You need to show up for the panel discussion with a list of well-crafted questions. The purpose of your questions will be to get the panel discussion started. You’ll probably want to start out with some broad questions that may center on a current event in order to get your audience’s attention. Next, you’ll want to move on to questions that will start to get your audience to care about this discussion. There is a good chance that at some point in time a bonfire will burst out and the panel will be off and running and will not need any more of your questions to keep things going.

Pick A Q&A Format For The Panel

A big part of any panel session is when the audience is provided with an opportunity to ask the panel questions – this is generally one of the reasons that everyone came to this event. As the panel moderator, you are in control and you get to determine when and how the audience will be allowed to ask questions of your panel members. The good news is that you are not required to wait until the end of the panel session to take questions from your audience. You can choose to take them as they show up or you can pick certain times to stop things and take questions. When people want to ask questions you can make them line up to ask their questions, have runners who take microphones to them, or make them come up to you and use your microphone.

What All Of This Means For You

You know and I know that just because we can give a speech does not necessarily qualify us to act as a panel moderator. However, the rest of the world does not seem to understand this and so more often than not we may get asked to be the host of the next panel session. When this happens, and it will, you need to be willing to say yes and then do all of the things that will be needed in order to have a successful panel session that will share the benefits of public speaking with your audience.

In order to deliver a panel discussion that will meet the expectations of your audience, you first need to make sure that the people on your panel will be the ones that your audience will want to come to hear. In order to be able to start things off correctly and keep the conversation going, you are going to have to do some homework on the topic that will be discussed, the people on your panel, and even who will be in your audience. This is your panel session and so you get to choose the panel format that will determine how your panelist will be arranged on the stage. Since you’ll be expected to start the panel discussions off, you need to make sure that you show up with a list of great questions. During the panel discussion, your audience will have questions that they would like to ask and you’ll have to choose how you want to allow them to do so.

A panel session can be a fantastic event for both the people participating on the panel and the audience. When you are asked to be the panel moderator you have a great responsibility to both the people on the panel and in the audience. Take the time to set up your panel carefully and make sure that it gets off to a great start. Your panelists should be able to take it from there and deliver exactly what your audience came to listen to.

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

Question For You: When hosting a panel session, how many panelists do you think that you should include?

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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

As speakers we’d all like to be able to give speeches that captivate and interest our audiences – that’s what the importance of public speaking is all about. However, the challenge that we have every time that we sit down to write a speech is coming up with something to say that will be interesting. As hard as this may seem to be to do, it turns out that we all have the answer to this problem. It turns out that the most interesting thing that you have to talk about is yourself. What we need to find out how to do is to work more of our story into our next speech.