Not long ago I posted my top five Don’ts when creating a panel discussion. It was intended for anyone putting together a panel event. Now let’s focus in on moderating. Here, the first two of the Ten Commandments of Moderating. These are the most basic of basics (but even so, you’ve probably suffered through more than one panel that broke these rules):
1. Remember: It’s all up to you, but it’s not about you — It’s the job of the moderator to set the tone, to keep the energy up, to keep the discussion on track, to have a sophisticated understanding of what each panelist has to say and how to best get them to say it — but the point of all that work is to make your panelists look great. If you have strong opinions and a lot of information to impart on the subject at hand, be one of the panelists or give a separate presentation later.
2. Have the Right Questions for the Right Panelists — Except perhaps when taking concluding comments, a moderator should almost never go along the panel asking each speaker the same question. Your audience will have lost interest by the third (or even second) time the question is answered. For each question you want addressed, go to the person best qualified to answer it in an interesting way. If you know someone else on the panel is likely to disagree with the first person’s comments, go to that person for a response. If either person says something surprising or controversial in his or her answer, note it and ask for elaboration or reactions from other panelists. But if the first answer covers what you need and doesn’t call for a rebuttal or more detail, just move to the next question.
If the panel is more than a couple people, this may mean that you start out focusing on one or two people with your first question and its follow-ups, and then focus on another panelist or two for the next set of questions. Let the panelists know that you will be doing this and tell them not to worry if they aren’t asked something in the first five minutes. Eventually you will have focused on each panelist, asking the questions he or she is best suited to answer. (And panelists will have had the opportunity to ask questions of and talk to each other — but that’s for a later commandment.)