I never appreciated the importance of good moderation of a speaker panel until attending a poorly moderated panel discussion recently. The meeting promised very well - great panelist line-up, interesting topic, strong attendance, combined with a venue that provided excellent logistics, refreshments and audiovisual set up. But despite all these advantages, the event was marred by poor moderation and both speakers and audience were left disappointed by the experience.
What can we learn from this about good moderation?
1) Preparation is key.
a) Selecting panelists. Three to four panelists is an ideal number - fewer and it can be difficult to present diverse points of view, more than four and there won't be enough time for each panelist to contribute meaningfully. Consider the diversity of your panel too - not just by type of company, consider women panelists as well as men and panelists with international experience.
b) Briefing panelists. Contact each panelist beforehand to get their bio and check how they wish to be introduced (and the pronunciation of their name and company). Explain the topic for discussion and your expectations for their participation - e.g. will they be expected to give a short presentation? With powerpoint or without? How long? Ideally, get your panelists together beforehand either by teleconference or prior to the panel discussion, for breakfast or lunch, so that they can get acquainted and start to identify issuues of interest for the panel discussion.
2. Facilitating the discussion.
a) It is your job as moderator to get the discussion going and guide the pace and direction. But remember the audience has come to hear the panelists speak, not you, so avoid making over-long introductory comments. Invite each panelist to introduce him or herself (no more than 5 minutes) and then start by posing a few questions that you have prepared beforehand with the panel. One good approach can be to pose a general question and invite each panelist in turn to express his or her view.
b) Usually there will be questions from the audience. If the question is not audible, repeat it so that everyone can hear - it can be helpful to have a microphone available for audience questions so that you do not need to repeat them. Sometimes audience members may use the opportunity as a platform or make long rambling comments prior to their question. The moderator is responsible for bringing these questions back to focus, and if necessary for moving the discussion on to the next question. Do not allow any one individual to monopolize the airtime but firmly interrupt if necessary and direct the question to another panelist, or invite another person to ask a new question
3. Time management. The moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track. Carefully plan your time beforehand - for introductions, the main topics to be covered and allow time for audience questions at the end.
I hope these moderator tips are helpful in eliciting lively and dynamic panel discussions from your invited experts. What other tips can you share?