How To Be An Invisible, Successful Rock Star Panel Moderator


Good panel moderators wear camouflage.

We’ll not really. But they blend in so much with our panel experience that we often don’t even notice them.

Why? Successful moderators keep the panel focused on attendees and their problems, not the panelists. They drive the panel discussion towards solutions that meets the audiences’ needs.

Five Moderator Rules For Successful Panels

Smart moderators focus on five major rules for successful panels.

1. The moderator decides if the goal of the panel is to share information or have the audience learn critical information.

If the goal of the panel is to help the audience change attitudes and behaviors, then the moderator focuses on providing good adult learning principles even though there may be two, three, four or five people at the front of the room. If the goal is just for the audience to hear what the panelists have to say without any audience actions or responses, the moderator ignores the rest of these rules.

2. The moderator serves as the mentor, coach, manager and guide.

A successful panel is a managed panel. And that manager is the moderator. The moderator drives the panel experience towards meeting the audiences’ needs. The moderator represents the audience to the panelists and takes the side of the audience. He/she serves as a guide to that experience and sets the tone for the experience.

3. The moderator keeps the audience at the center of the panel experience.

The panel is not for the panelists. It is for the audience. So the moderator keeps the audience as the focus of the experience.

Moderators let panelists know that they are not shy about cutting off panelists’ comments and nudging them to stay on the main point. They remind panelists that the presentation is for the audience, not for them.

4. The moderator manages the time efficiently.

Moderators are clock watchers making sure there is adequate time for the audience to participate in the experience. By keeping time, the moderator demonstrates that the audience’s time matters.

Successful moderators introduce all the panelists at the beginning. They give each panelist 30- to 60-seconds to tell the audience about their background and experience. This is a great time saver tip.

The moderator asks one question and has each panelist respond. Each panelist gets two- to three-minutes to reply. After each panelist has had the opportunity to respond to the moderator’s question, the moderator kicks the question to the audience for two- to five minutes of peer to peer discussions. (Not audience Q&A). Then the moderator debriefs the audiences small group discussions with three comments as well as takes one to three questions for the panelists from the audience. Then this process is repeated for the next major question.

5. The moderator prepares the audience that their learning is the goal of the experience.

They also prepare the panelists before the discussion that the audience’s learning is the goal.

Successful moderators start the panel experience with an overview of the topic and the process that will be used. They explain that the audience’s active involvement in this panel experience is critical if they want practical takeaways. That intro is short and to the point.

They provide ample opportunities for the audience to participate in pair or triad peer-discussion of the panelists’ comments. They also demonstrate that they care about the audience’s input through discussions, comments and questions.

What other tips do you have for panel moderators? What happens if a moderator focuses on the panelists’ needs above the audience’s needs?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. Love the idea of being “the guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” It’s all about creating value for the audience rather than letting the panelists pontificate. Love the question, peer-to-peer response, debrief (QPD) format. Works great- although some panelists get a bit peeved that they aren’t more “central” to the conversation so you need to let them know ahead of time that your format is more audience-centered. But then again, WHAT do you do, Jeff that audience-centered? LOL!

    BTW, would love for your readers to comment on their experiences of panels in this very short survey At the end, they can download a handy Panelist Do’s and Don’ts Tip Sheet.

  2. I’ve never thought about the peer to peer discussion groups post moderator comment. I love that idea!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *