The Do's & Don'ts of Being A Sought-After Panelist (and Moderator)

I was recently asked to moderate a panel discussion for a conference happening here in Charleston. In the past, I’ve participated in panel discussions on both sides of the microphone. In this particular case, unlike others, the event organizers asked me if I could forward some “How to be a Great Panelist” guidelines. 

I’ll share them with you, but in a moment.

First, let’s talk about being a great moderator. Or even a good one? I’ve seen moderators who monologue’d like they were auditioning for Broadway. I’ve been a panelist when the moderator was far more interested in sharing her life story than having a conversation with us or the audience. I’ve also seen really nervous (I guess?) moderators with their stamped-in-concrete list of questions who can only respond to the panelists with a “Great, great.” or “Uh, huh, wow…” before racing to the next question.

So, before we get to panelist guidelines, should you ever be fortunate enough to be asked to moderate a discussion, here are some do’s & don’ts. 

  1. Please, for the love of God, do some research - on the topic & on the panelists. 

  2. You’re the driver, but this isn’t your bus. Talk less about yourself and more to the panelists.

  3. Understand the audience - who are you speaking to?

  4. Do ask the panelists beforehand for bios and handles, i.e. first names, titles, etc.

  5. Don’t be afraid to jump into a panelist’s response if they’re monopolizing the time. 

  6. Do be respectful if/when you have to curtail a response and move on.

  7. Check in with the audience periodically to make sure they’re engaged and with you.

  8. Ultimately, it’s your job to facilitate the conversation, showcase the panelists and make sure the audience walks out having learned something. 

And now, here are our guidelines for being a sought-after panelist:

  1. Understand the discussion topic and consider your unique perspective - it’s why you’re there.

  2. Understand the audience - who are you speaking to?

  3. Please, for the love of God, do not give a speech or presentation.

  4. Be succinct in your responses - use “…more matter and less art…”

  5. When you can, support other panelists and build on their responses.

  6. If you disagree with a comment, remain respectful and explain why you disagree with their response and NOT with them as a person.

  7. Speak to the audience, not necessarily the moderator.

  8. Be your best, most relaxed and engaging self.

BONUS: We-shouldn’t-have-to-say-this-but-we’re-gonna-anyway: No hate speech of any kind. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company provides a wealth of soft skills training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans, AND she’s a great moderator/panelist. To find out more about running a great panel discussion, please reach out to us at 843-771-0753.