Moderating a Panel: 3 Unconventional Best Practices

I remember watching Greg (Turpin’s VP) moderate a panel discussion several years ago.

As I observed, I realized that the discussion was one of the best I’d ever attended. It was good, not only because of the insightful panelists (and they were) but also because of how Greg kept the conversation orderly through the use of some unconventional techniques. Here’s what I mean.

Moderating a PanelDirect everyone’s focus. As you can see in the photo, Greg positioned himself in the audience. We were in theatre seating with a center aisle. As you probably have seen in other panel discussions, panelists tend to speak directly to the moderator. Had Greg been up front, the panelists would have had to turn to the side or back to address him. Being out in the audience opened them up to the group. Placing himself in the audience also helped Greg monitor what was going on with the group as a whole.

  1. Make it as conversational and intimate as possible. While there was a raised stage behind them, the panelists were seated at audience level on stools. Having them sit on the same level as the audience, but slightly elevated, made the conversation feel more intimate. Also, the panel took place after dinner. While it took a few minutes to move from the round dinner tables to the theatre seating, the new seating arrangement made it so much easier to listen. No one was forced to twist uncomfortably to face the panelists.
  2. Help us know who’s talking. The panelists’ pictures, name, title, and company were projected behind them in the same order they were sitting. This helped the audience remember who everyone was and the angle their answers and comments came from. This was such a simple, practical idea. How many times have you forgotten who individual panelists are after they have been introduced? If you’re like me, every time. Panelists’ bios and pictures were also provided on handouts. I was able to learn more about them, if I wanted, as the discussion went on.

I think the evening’s success was the result of Greg’s taking the time to think about how he could make the panel discussion as easy as possible—from the panelist’s perspective and the audience’s. By breaking the fourth wall of the stage, he was able to bring the discussion to the audience, making all of us feel a part of it.

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About the Author: Dale Ludwig

Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission of providing the best presentation and facilitation skills training available. Since then, he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, Dale is our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. He holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s VP, Greg Owen-Boger.

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