How to Moderate a Panel

A panelist is talking to a coworker.
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Whether your panel is at a business conference, a political town hall meeting or a student educational seminar, the objective for the moderator is the same: Make it a dynamic conversation, with interesting, smart and funny panelists. Though being well-prepared is key, it is only the start.

1 Before the Discussion

Talk to the panelists or email them; get their bios, but do not over-prepare them. You don’t want them rattling off memorized bits. Research the topics yourself, prepare the list of questions, and give them two or three general questions that they can knock out of the park. Keep some of the questions to yourself, though. Also, encourage the panelists to think of a question they would like to ask the other panelists. Above all, you must be current on all the latest trends affecting the panelists, the audience and the topic in general. Talk to a few audience members before the discussion starts to see what is on their minds.

2 During the Discussion

Introduce the topic and the objectives of the discussion. Then, give a quick, clever and relevant introduction of each panelist or, let them introduce themselves. Sit with them; don’t stand at a podium. Encourage your panelists to face the audience members by facing them yourself. Start with overview of the industry type discussion. Then encourage personal anecdotes, with, “Did that ever happen to you? How did you handle that?” Don't be afraid to interrupt a panelist who is going on too long. The last third of the meeting can be Q&A. A good moderator must be able to mix up the order and keep things dynamic. Don't be afraid to change as you go to accommodate panelists' expertise or audience interest.

3 Things to Avoid

To keep the discussion dynamic, do not allow any panelist to bring a PowerPoint presentation or video. Avoid boring or droning audience questions by having audience members fill out index cards to give them to you to read.

Nate Lee was senior editor of Chicago's "NewCity" newspaper and creative director in a global advertising agency. A playwright and published poet, Lee writes about the arts, culture and business innovation. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane University.