If you find yourself moderating a panel, and I hope you do because it can be a lot of fun, here are some tips that I’ve found useful along the way.
8 tips on moderating panels
1. Always be checking with the conference organizer in case they are trying to alert you to something (like if the speakers can’t be heard, if there are questions, if you need to speed someone up, etc.). Make a conscious effort to frequently make eye contact with that person. Unlike when you’re giving a solo presentation and you know you’re timing, a panel can get away from you and checking with the conference organizer periodically is a good idea.
2. Have a conversation. Anyone can stand up there and ask questions, one after another. Instead, a good moderator reacts to what the person who just spoke said, not going to their next question regardless. Too many moderators do that, go question to question rather than building dialogue.
3. Don’t let your speakers pile on. The last thing you want is every question asked, every panelist answers. Some moderators even push that, making sure everyone gets a say. That will kill a session.
4. Quickly get to the audience for questions, and make sure to restate the question so everyone else knows what they asked (unless they get a mic). That’s a big one and easy to forget. But always be checking the audience to see if questions start to pop up.
5. Kill the filibusters. There will be panelists that go on and on and on and…you get the picture. Politely stop them somehow, interject and then change direction. Fake a seizure if you have to, but don’t let them dominate your panel.
6. Try to watch the vibe of the audience. If people are getting bored, checking their phones a lot, etc, figure out a way to make it more interactive. Move around, change up the questions, call on someone in the audience that you know has similar issues/ideas and ask if what was just said vibes with them. Make sure your panel is engaging and exciting.
7. Make sure your opening remarks are tight and prepared, and set up the panel appropriately. A rambling 15 minutes can make everyone check out before you even get rolling.
8. Shoot for some early humor, maybe through a personal story or two, right out of the gate. You set the vibe, so bring the energy and enthusiasm right out of the gate.