Are You Moderating a Panel? Try These Tips

Moderating a panel isn’t as easy as just asking some people some questions when you get up on stage. It’s a delicate balance between giving equal attention to the audience, your guest panelists, and the clock (that last one is the trickiest).

I’ve created a brief document you are more than welcome to share with anyone you feel would benefit from knowing my 10 tips to being a better moderator for a panelist interview. In this video, I cover the 5 most important tips out of the ten. If you want to go deeper and discover the other 5, you can just email me with the subject line “10 Moderator Tips” and I’ll happily send you the document. Here are the first 5 tips:

Do the Math

Be aware of just how many minutes each panelist should get before you even begin. Make sure you take into account a possible delayed start (5 – 15 minutes), your personalized wrap-up and summary (5 minutes), and whether you want to offer questions from the audience (10 – 30 minutes).  By doing this upfront you’ll ensure you don’t allow one guest to dominate the panel discussion and rob the others of the valuable time they may need to share their ideas.  This will also help you to implement Tip #10 (keep reading).

Interrupt Your Guests

Don’t interrupt for the sake of just butting in, but you absolutely are in charge of the panel, so act like it.  If a panelist is going long it is not just your right to interrupt them.  It’s your job to interrupt them. You absolutely must take control and move the conversation along.  How do you interrupt?  Just do it.  There’s never a great time to butt in, so just butt in.  A quick, “Mark I’m fascinated by the story, and I want to make sure I have time for everyone to be able to share, can you button this up into a key point so we can get to the other panelists?”

Now you might think that just letting someone talk all they want won’t reflect poorly on you, but you would be wrong.  In the end, the participants might make comments and even joke about the long-winded panelist, but they will be angry at you for letting it happen, or maybe even worse, they might lose respect for you.  You’re the moderator; so moderate.

Ask Bounce-Off Questions

Follow-up questions are great, but bounce-off questions are even better.  What’s a bounce-off question? It’s anything that you can pull from the last answer that you can use to bounce off the current speaker and onto the next. 

It might sound something like, “Tom I loved the part about how the alligator in your back yard kept you from enjoying your bbq.  This leads me to my next question for Sally.  Sally, how do you recover when your best-intended plans get derailed?”  

Bouncing off the previous person’s answer does a few things.  #1 it lets the person who just finished speaking know that their time is done, and #2 it shows that person and the audience that you were paying attention.  

Pay Attention to What They Say

One of the worst things I personally think you could do as a moderator is to have a list of pre-determined questions you ask your panelists regardless of what they said in the previous answer.  When you just read down a list of questions, you will inevitably trip up and ask something that the panelist already answered in one of their previous stories.  But if you listen intently, you can create an entire panelist discussion bouncing off of one question and onto the next the entire time.  

Also, pre-written questions, especially when you’ve already provided the questions to the panelists, just end up sounding scripted but poorly rehearsed.  It’s rarely a good look for you or the guest panelists.

Put Your Panelists at Ease

Okay, now we’ve addressed the importance of butting in on a talk-a-holic.  But what if you get someone on the panel who is just the opposite?  What if you get someone whose nerves have got the best of them and they can’t remember what they wanted to say?  As the moderator, it’s your job to put them at ease and throw them a lifeline.  How do you do that?  Change the question, or move on to another panelist.  

So if Frank is struggling to answer what’s the most important aspect of their job, change the question to something easier.  By the way, as a general interviewing guideline, avoid asking extreme questions like, “What’s the best…”, or “What’s the worst…”, or “What’s the #1 thing of…” If you want to know why check out my video called “Questions to Avoid When Interviewing Guests” on my website at 

How do you ask easier questions?  Poor Frank in our hypothetical situation is struggling to answer what the most important aspect of his job is. There’s an awkward silence in the room.  The longer that silence goes, the more pressure poor Frank is going to experience just adding to the silence.  So throw the poor man a lifeline… Ask him an easier question.  For example, you can loosen up the qualification of “Most Important” or drill down into something specific that he’s already talked about.  It might sound something like this: “Actually Frank, here’s an even better question, of all the important things you have to do in your job, what is just one or two things that people would want to know in order to succeed as you have.”

By rephrasing to “just one or two things” it takes the pressure off Frank to come up with “the most important thing.”  Chances are, he had already thought of 3 or 4 things but because he couldn’t select which one was the most important. By giving him this out to just mention anything, he will break the silence and start talking.  And if he is still struggling, give him time to think without the awkward silence… just move on to someone else and say,Frank, I’m going to let you think about that answer and move on to Sally, but I’ll come back to you after she shares.”  

And then, the moment Sally starts talking, poor Frank will think of a million different things to say.  Just go back to him when Sally wraps up.  And if she isn’t wrapping up, remember tip #2.  Interrupt her!

Want to Learn More?

If you want to dig deeper and discover the other 5 tips, just email me at with the title “10 Moderator Tips” in the subject line and I’ll send it out straight away.

Do you have any tips that make your role as Moderator of a Panel of Experts? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

And if you like these tips and would to be informed the next time I release a video, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog.

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