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.
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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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Livestorm helps teams collaborate and deliver memorable live or on-demand video experiences.
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.
When opening your panel discussion, follow these steps:
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:
These can help you avoid uncomfortable situations during your discussion, and ensure that everyone’s on the same page regarding appropriate conduct.
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:
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.
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.
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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.
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.
To successfully close a panel discussion, follow these steps:
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
To end a panel discussion, make sure you: