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How to Successfully Moderate Guest Panel Discussions

How to Successfully Moderate Guest Panel Discussions

What does it take to moderate guest panel discussions? Panel discussions are a long-standing means of sharing diverse perspectives and expert insights on a specific topic. They provide a dynamic platform where people share views and drop knowledge bombs on diverse issues. 

But while panelists bring their knowledge and insights, your moderator role is equally important. Your work ensures the panel discussion remains focused, insightful, and well-structured.

This article includes every critical detail needed to moderate guest panel discussions. We will explore the essential steps and techniques to ensure a productive and engaging discussion from preparation to post-event evaluation.

What is a panel discussion?

Picture this: a group of experts discuss an interesting topic on a stage about three feet above a larger audience. That’s a panel discussion, otherwise known as a guest panel. A panel discussion is a fantastic way to bring different thought leaders on a shared platform. It’s also a very versatile event. You can host a panel discussion for knowledge-sharing workshops, debates, academic conferences, professional networking events, and product or service promotions. 

How to Run a Successful Guest Panel

Before planning your guest panel, you want to ask yourself, ‘What does a home run look like for my guest panel?”. Getting clear about your goals will influence who you invite, what you discuss, and how you facilitate the conversation. Now, let’s discuss the essential aspects of hosting your guest panel.

Preparing for the Panel Discussion

Now that you know the goals you want to accomplish with the panel discussion, it’s time to determine the topic you want to focus on. It’s essential to do thorough research on the topic. The foundation of a well-moderated panel discussion is an understanding of the chosen topic. So you should do your research. 

Assemble your dream team.

Your panelists will make or break the event. So, scout relevant and knowledgeable individuals who will offer valuable insights. Start by listing potential candidates, be bold, and aim high. The selection of panelists can be both internal within your organzation or external to the company.You’d be surprised at who might say “yes!”. And beyond listing and contacting them, you want to get to know them more. Research their unique background and perspective. Familiarize yourself with their expertise to moderate effectively.

Choosing the suitable panel discussion format and structure

You must decide if the guest panel will be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid. Making the best choice depends on your audience’s preferences and accessibility. 

Plan the structure of your panel.

How do you want to allocate time to every aspect of your panel? Consider the introductions, each panelist’s input, discussions, Q&A, debate, and presentation. As for the speaking order, you should mix it up a bit to keep the panel engaging.

Audience at the conference hall. Business Conference and Presentation

Discuss roles and expectations

You may want to have a pre-discussion meeting with your panelists to discuss the panel’s objectives and their roles and set clear expectations about participation. But this shouldn’t be a lengthy meeting where you want to hear everything they will cover. It’s essential to avoid that as much as possible.It gives the panelists a chance to get to know each other and build some rapport.

One thing that makes successful guest panels stand out is their spontaneity and dynamic conversations. Aim to maintain it by researching and developing the appropriate questions for your panelists. As a facilitator, your goal would be to keep the conversation lively, fun, and valuable to your audience. You can also share the opening questions you’ve planned with your panelists. 

Check your equipment, venue setup, and audio-visual needs 

Ensure that all technical aspects, including audio-visual equipment, are in place for a smooth and hassle-free discussion. Consider running a rehearsal with everyone to fix audio, visual, or connection issues as early as possible. This helps you address any problems before the event. It would help if you also had technical support available to address any issues that arise during the quest panels.

The Big Day: Steps to Moderate Guest Panel Discussions

On the day, your job is to keep things going smoothly. So, one of your most prominent roles is to avoid being a panelist. An effective moderator guides the conversation while allowing organic discussion to happen. You must get the timing, pacing, engagement, and respect. Achieving this demands a few techniques, which we will discuss in the following sections.

Welcome your audience

Create a warm and inviting atmosphere by welcoming and acknowledging your audience. It’s also crucial to introduce your panelists. Consider sharing concise biographies about who they are and their accomplishments. Make sure to clearly articulate their expertise to give the audience a better understanding of their unique perspectives. However, you must stick to two to three sentences when discussing each panelist to avoid giving a long introduction.

Set the tone and context by briefly introducing the topic. It will also create a roadmap that your audience can follow closely. Don’t forget to set the ground rules about staying on schedule and maintaining a respectful and constructive dialogue among panelists.

Let your panelists take the central stage 

Beyond the introductions, you should focus on the questions you want to ask. As I said earlier, your job is to encourage your panelists to perform well. So how do you achieve this? Focus on asking open-ended questions to encourage panelists to want to hear their perspectives. Acknowledge every panelist’s opinion. Ensure that they feel listened to and appreciated by acknowledging their points. You must also be firm about not letting a single panelist dominate the discussion.

Create a space for healthy debates.

Foster an environment where disagreements can lead to productive and insightful discussions. You should guide the discussion using diplomacy and tact through any contentious moments. One surefire way is to invite each panelist to ask each other questions. But do this carefully, as people tend to have provocative questions in a heated debate. Consider asking each of them to submit the one question they have before the panel discussion.

Avoid allowing visuals unless necessary.

Avoid allowing panelists to bring their PowerPoint and other forms of presentation. It’s so easy for a panel discussion to quickly become a solo teaching moment if panelists are behind their slides. That said, certain instances warrant a few visuals. 

Keep everyone on schedule 

Employ strategies to remind everyone of the allotted time and maintain the pace of the panel discussion. You can also use non-verbal cues to help panelists and the audience stay on track.

Don’t forget to engage your audience. 

Provide opportunities when your audience can ask questions and receive answers from the analysts. You can decide to randomly pick someone directly from the crowd. Alternatively, you can use a Q&A setup to select and prioritize questions aligned with the discussion’s goals and relevance. 

Incorporate interactive elements to moderate panel discussions virtually 

If you are moderating a virtual guest panel, you want to integrate features like polls to get their opinions. These tools can also be integrated into life panels. Regardless, when you encourage your audience to share their thoughts, comments, and feedback, you make them feel like they are a part of the discussion.

End with a bang

At the end of the panel, provide a summary, reminding everyone of the discussion. Make sure to emphasize the critical aspects, key lessons, and insights they should take away. Don’t forget to thank the panelists and audience for participating and contributing to the discussion. You can also invite them to continue to engage with the topic by suggesting more resources to read to tell them about your future events.

Follow-up after the panel

Moderating a successful panel isn’t just about the event but also the aftermath. Encourage your audience to provide feedback on what they enjoyed about the panel. Honest feedback is a goldmine for fine-tuning your future panels. After the event, you should keep in touch with your panelists and audience. Who knows what doors these relationships may open in the future? 

Wrapping Up.

With the tips in this article, you can now moderate a guest panel discussion successfully. The critical takeaway is to plan wisely and focus on facilitating meaningful conversations. Remember, the secret to being an effective moderator is learning how to get others to share their perspectives without your own views taking over the spotlight. We encourage you to apply the techniques and insights gained from this blog post to your future panel moderation endeavors. So go ahead and take the plunge to host your own guest panel.

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