Remote communication

How to Moderate Panel Discussions? Step-by-Step Guide

Published on May 23, 2022 • Updated on June 7, 2022 • About 9 min. read

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Co-workers participating in panel discussion

Moderating a panel discussion is a great way to engage with challenging ideas and become recognized as a leader in your area of expertise. But there’s no doubt moderating a discussion and making sure you’re properly prepared can be stressful.

Whether you’re moderating an in-person, virtual, or hybrid panel discussion, there are a few key steps you’ll need to consider.

We’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions (and answers!) on how to moderate your panel discussion to engage and delight your audience, so you can lead your next discussion with confidence.

Step one: prepare for the panel discussion

For a seamless discussion, it’s important to stress preparation, not rehearsal. Rehearsing too much can end in a rigid discussion, or even worse, you end up spouting a monologue without listening and responding to other panelists. Use the following tips to ensure you’re ready for the big event.

How do you prepare for a panel discussion?

To effectively prepare for a panel discussion, you’ll need to thoroughly research and understand your discussion topic. You don’t want to leave any room for surprises here, so make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with important literature on the topic, scholarly articles, tweets, blog posts, and podcasts.

You’ll also need to select the type of panel discussion: will it be a virtual panel discussion, an in-person event, or a hybrid of the two? If it’s in-person, will it be in a relaxed or professional setting? Make sure the setting aligns with your topic or industry.

If you’re doing a live panel discussion, consider brushing up on your public speaking skills by filming yourself or enrolling in a public speaking course to refresh your knowledge (and improve your cadence).

How do you choose an impactful topic for your panel?

When choosing an impactful topic for your panel discussion, make sure that it’s highly relevant to the industry it pertains to. The topic should have enough buzz around it to compel panelists to participate and maintain a lively discussion throughout, but it shouldn’t be overly controversial or sensitive.

To find relevant industry-specific topics, look at what’s trending on Twitter or LinkedIn so you know what experts are talking about and aren’t missing the mark.

Co-workers participating in a panel discussion

What is the role of a moderator?

The role of the moderator is to direct the flow of the discussion, making sure everyone has enough time and space to voice their opinion and expertise. An effective moderator knows how to keep track of time, break the ice, remain neutral, and lead a bigger group of people.

While the moderator doesn’t need to be an expert on the discussion topic, it can help add to a more seamless discourse. They should also be confident and firm and be able to cut panelists off (when necessary), yet remain likable, inviting, and kind. In a virtual setting, it’s also common for moderators to take a background role where they moderate polls, chats, and questions—communicating with the audience via the virtual event’s chat room instead.

How do you choose the right panelists?

To select the right panelists for your panel discussion, make sure your panelists are qualified to speak about the chosen topic and that they’ve done speaking engagements prior to ensure they’re all great presenters. Also, be sure to select panelists from varying backgrounds (i.e., universities, ethnicities, degrees, etc.) for a broader, more interesting discussion.

Pick anywhere from 3-5 panelists to ensure there aren’t too many voices in the room so you have room to hone in on their individual expertise.

Step two: set up the panel discussion

This step is all about smoothing out the more granular details of your event. When should you introduce yourself to your panelists? How do you come up with great questions? Below, we answer all your questions and more.

When should you introduce the moderator to your panelists?

The moderator should be introduced to panelists at least a day before the event. It’s important to introduce yourself (assuming you’re the moderator) to get a better understanding of how the panelists communicate, any quirks they may have, and what they respond to most. An earlier introduction leads to a smoother, less awkward panel discussion because you’re not leaving the first meeting for the spotlight.

You can also use the introduction to ask your panelists questions about the topic and to better understand their expertise, so you know where to direct your questions and to whom.

What makes a good question for a panel discussion?

Good panel discussion questions are all open-ended questions and maintain elements of each panelist’s specific background and area of expertise. However, make sure every panelist can contribute to any question as much as possible, so there’s no awkward silence when the panelist it’s directed to doesn’t respond.

You’ll also want to ensure questions are spaced out evenly and don’t favor a particular panelist. Do your research and use the panelists as a sounding board for industry-specific knowledge and information.

Panel discussion being hosted in an auditorium

How do you set up the space or room for your panel discussion?

When setting up your panel discussion, you need to decide if it’s going to be in-person, virtual, or a combination of the two. For in-person panel discussions, place the panelists’ chairs next to each other on a stage or platform separate from the audience.

If it’s in a hybrid setting, make sure the panelists and audience can comfortably see the screen and are audible to everyone attending. For virtual events, choose a neutral background with decent lighting and double-check that your panelists have functioning mics, headphones, and stable wifi for optimal acoustics and a seamless experience.

That’s why it's so useful to have a browser-based platform like Livestorm. It lets panelists connect instantly—without having to download anything—making setup super easy.

Step three: moderate the panel discussion

Now you’re ready to moderate! Thanks to your preparation and planning, and our helpful tips below, you can be confident that your panel discussion will be a success.

How do you open a panel discussion?

When opening your panel discussion, follow these steps:

  1. Welcome your attendees and introduce yourself and your role as moderator.
  2. State your goals for the discussion and the reason why you organized it or why it’s important. For example, it could be the result of an event partnership. This helps set up the context for the audience and the panelists.
  3. Inform the attendees and panelists about the panel discussion procedure and the ground rules (more on that below).
  4. Introduce the panelists with short, original introductions — don’t let them introduce themselves.
  5. Ask your first question.

How do you set ground rules for a panel discussion?

To set ground rules for a panel discussion, make sure to explain your expectations for the discussion and for each panelist. Clearly state what behavior is encouraged during the panel discussion, and what behavior isn’t. Some examples of panel discussion ground rules include:

  • Don’t interrupt another person.
  • Use encouraging language to add to the discussion and build on what others have said; for example, “yes, and…” instead of “no, but…
  • Not every panelist needs to or is required to answer every question.
  • If it’s a virtual event, the moderator needs to tell them how to use the event room and where to ask their questions.

These can help you avoid uncomfortable situations during your discussion, and ensure that everyone’s on the same page regarding appropriate conduct.

What can you do to facilitate the discussion during a panel?

When facilitating a panel discussion, make sure that you remain strictly neutral and that you don’t add your own opinion to the discussion. Suggestive comments such as, “interesting,” or “that’s cool,” don’t allow the audience to form their own opinions and takeaways. Instead, thank the panelists for their contributions, and move on to the next question. In a virtual panel discussion, you can also poll the audience to:

  • Engage your audience
  • Learn more about attendees
  • Quiz audiences
  • Gather feedback
  • Find new content ideas

Livestorm’s live polls feature makes it easy to schedule your live polls in advance or periodically, to sample attitudes or opinions towards a certain subject during a presentation.

How do you make a panel discussion fun?

Hosting a fun panel discussion means you’ll have to engage and involve the audience. If you’re on a virtual or hybrid discussion panel, use our video engagement platform to crowdsource interesting questions from the audience in a live Q&A. This can help boost your engagement funnel, as you build up your community and answer questions in real-time.

Live Q&A inside Livestorm's virtual meeting

Livestorm's engagement features can also turn your virtual event into a fun and interesting experience for users. Use Polls, Chats, Emoji reactions, media and screen sharing, or choose from our many apps, like digital whiteboards—to engage powerfully with your audience and elevate their experience.

Step four: close the panel discussion

Now that you’ve successfully moderated your panel discussion while engaging your audience, it’s important to end on a strong note. Use our tips below to help guide you through the closing process.

How do you close a panel discussion?

To successfully close a panel discussion, follow these steps:

  1. End in a meaningful way by posing a final question to your panelists that appropriately summarizes the discussion.
  2. Give each panelist the chance for closing remarks.
  3. Provide a location (virtual, in-person, hybrid) to continue the conversation. Send the replay automatically to your registrants with Livestorm. This way attendees can watch the replay, and those who registered but couldn't attend can catch up on what they missed.
  4. Express gratitude to the panelists and attendees and thank them for their participation.
Livestorm virtual meeting

How do you come up with a powerful ending to your panel discussion?

To end your panel discussion on a powerful note, make sure you thoughtfully summarize the biggest takeaways from the discussion. If you’re strapped for time, ask the panelists for their own brief summary or key takeaway, and be sure to thank them for their time and input.

Let your audience know when they can expect your next panel discussion, and make sure to follow up on social media or over email with a recap of the event — or even include short clips of the discussion to ramp up your video engagement marketing.

Should you send a thank you email after a panel discussion?

You should definitely send your attendees and panelists a thank you email (and post relevant, engaging content from the event on your social media accounts). Go one step further and share how successful the discussion was.

Use Livestorm to share a replay of the event in your email, or make it available on-demand. Use the thank you email as an opportunity to reiterate what the panel discussion was about and how it added value, and to promote any upcoming events.

Track your event’s success with Livestorm

While there isn’t one panel discussion definition or one correct way to moderate it, there is a way to ensure it went well.

If you’re hosting virtual or hybrid panel discussions, consider virtual event platforms like Livestorm, to help you track and measure audience engagement with powerful end-to-end analytics. Or, use it to view the contact profiles of those who participated, so you can reach out to them and grow your audience.

No matter where you’re hosting it, the benefit of a job well done will be an engaging, lively discussion that’s valuable and engaging to everyone involved.

Frequently asked questions about moderating a panel discussion

What is a moderation panel?

A moderation panel is a panel that has a designated moderator to help guide the discussion, direct questions, and keep track of time. It’s the moderator’s job to meet the needs of the audience and the discussion through a panel format.

What does it mean to moderate a panel discussion?

Moderating a panel discussion means that you’re in charge of directing questions to panelists and allotting enough time for them to answer your questions. As a moderator, it’s important to stay neutral during the discussion, know when to interject, and be able to guide a group of people.

How to moderate a virtual panel discussion?

To moderate a virtual panel discussion, make sure you have the right virtual meeting platform, like Livestorm’s end-to-end virtual events platform, to engage the audience with virtual polls, Q&As, and media sharing tools. As the moderator, be sure to remain neutral, allow all the panelists to participate, and keep track of time.

How to end a panel discussion?

To end a panel discussion, make sure you:

  • End on a meaningful note by posing a final question to your panelists that appropriately summarizes the discussion.
  • Give each panelist the chance for closing remarks.
  • Provide a location (virtual, in-person, hybrid) to continue the conversation.
  • Express gratitude to the panelists and attendees and thank them for their attendance.
Pattern Pattern

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