My mom told me when I first registered for high school classes that I needed to take a public speaking course—that public speaking was an art that needed constant practice. From where I sit now, I’ve watched plenty of great speakers and plenty who probably wish they’d been with me in that public speaking class. But having attended a few industry trade shows recently I’m left wondering, where was the class on how to moderate a panel discussion?
- Don’t let panelists talk too much about themselves, jump right into the content
- Create debate and controversy because agreement makes for a boring session
- If there’s a loudmouth, reign him in
- Never accept market generalization, push panelists to talk specifically
- Don’t end with a prediction question, it never yields anything valuable
From my comfortable seat in the audience, I usually want two simple things from a panel discussion: to jump right into the content and to never feel like I’m being lulled to sleep. In a recent conversation with Digiday’s Corey Kronengold, he expressed similar sentiments and offered these important tips to moderators:
- How to open a discussion: Your first question should include the title of the session; it’s amazing how many people get that wrong!
- Keep things moving: Remind participants that story time is for the cocktail party or the reception hall—people tend to get caught up in their own ideas by telling stories instead of answering questions directly.
At Horn Group, we’ve learned that thought leadership is an essential tenant to any client’s public relations program. Our CEO Sabrina Horn makes a good point, though, by noting that all any audience wants is to be entertained. So while any successful moderator will prepare multiple topical questions to guide the discussion, keep a lighthearted question in your back pocket too. Something as simple as what industry jargon drives panelists crazy will do the trick!
There may be no high school class on how to moderate panel discussions effectively, but these tips offer a great cheat sheet for any first-time moderator. What obstacles have you faced as a moderator? Do you have any other great tips? If so, leave me a comment here!
For further reading on how to effectively moderate panel discussions, check out these links: