Be a skilled moderator

What does it take to wrangle a bunch of panelists? The ability to simultaneously juggle listening, synthesizing information, timing, and keeping control of dynamic discussions. Quick thinking, humor, and ad-libbing abilities are a bonus.

More and more, companies are leading panel discussions to bring experts together to share insights. Whether you’ve been chosen to moderate a panel, or you’ve been tasked to find this skilled person, here are some of the do’s and dont’s for successful moderating. Thanks to our team member and seasoned moderator Susan Taylor for highlighting the biggest tips. Please add your own and comment on ours below!


1. Bring your panel together on a conference call or at a meeting before the event. Help put them at ease by setting expectations. Discuss the format of the questions, and the fact that you will need to cut panelists off if they go too long.

2. Beforehand, get in touch with those in charge of the event and discuss any choreography as far as setup, seating, music, lighting, audio, visual, etc.

3. Set out to maintain a conversational tone for the panel and make your panelists aware of that goal.

4. Do your homework on your subject, your panelists, and your audience. You’ll be enter able to think on your feet and redirect questions, as well as understand what your audience would like to know.

5. Formulate your questions with your audience in mind. You’re their advocate and voice, so think about their interests and needs.

6. Provide an opening remark and introduce your panelists using the 3 P’s (say something personal, professional, and provocative). Keep it brief and share the highlights, not every detail of their biography.

7. Be an “activist moderator” who listens carefully, tosses to different panelists, poses a new question, or asks for a different point of view. Politely adjust the conversation if someone tends to talk too long. Keep it moving!

8. Be aware of timing! Allow time for audience Q&A. In knowing your time limitations, choose questions from the audience, and pitch questions to different panelists if no one volunteers to answer.

9. Agree to a format for audience Q&A, whether previously submitted questions, roaming or stationed microphones, etc.


1. Remember your role as the moderator, and do not talk and contribute too much to the discussion.

2. Do not turn the panel discussion in to a closed conversation. Reference your audience and have eye communication with them as well as your panelists so the audience feels involved in the panel.

3. Do not provide a list of your questions to the panelists beforehand. Allow the spontaneity of the moment and the energy to prevail.

4. Don’t ask yes or no questions. Develop brief questions that elicit panelist reactions.

5. Stay away from using too much jargon or terms your audience may not understand. If your panelist does use jargon, clarify the term for your audience.

6. Don’t zone out and start doing other things while your panelists are speaking. You’re not invisible, your audience can still see you! You’ll look disinterested, and you won’t be able to listen and know where to go next with the discussion.

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