Mulligan Management Group, LLC

12 Terrific Tips to Effectively Moderating a Panel Discussion

More and more meeting planners are turning to an effective way to give great content to attendees in a short period of time: the panel discussion. Although this type of program has been around for a long time, several best practice enhancements have been implemented over the last few years.

If you are new to panel discussions or haven’t implemented one in a long time, here are some great tips to pass along to your moderator.

12 Tips for Success

Several Weeks before Your Program


  1. Determine the length of time for discussion and the panel size.

    Generally speaking, most panel discussions last 45-60 minutes and have 4-5 panel participants. Beyond an hour, participants get bored and managing more than 5 panelists becomes unruly.
  2. Choose panelists wisely.

    You want subject matter experts who know the topic inside and out. It will make for interesting discussion and buzz if you have individuals who don’t agree on all points. Edgy, smart and conversational is the name of the game – and most importantly - will pique your attendees’ interest.
  3. Communicate with your panelists sparely.

    Send them a logistics email with the date, time and location of the event. Ask for their bio and a brief introduction that will go into the program. A couple of weeks before the event, confirm their attendance, covey the objectives of the session and ask them to send along any sample questions.

    That’s it until you all are onsite. Over communication can lead to stifled communication and look rehearsed to the audience.

When Onsite, But Before Your Program


  1. Introduce your panel to each other. 

    Whether it is one hour or one day before your program, introduce your panelists to each other and give them time to get to know each other. Arranging to sit together at a meal or at a networking reception.

    Encourage them to think about and prepare questions they can ask each other during the conference.
  2. Go over the seating arrangements and mic everyone.

    The best arrangement is to have the moderator in the middle of the stage and two seats on either side, positioned in a semi-circle. The reason for this is it brings more informality to the program and it allows everyone to see and read each other with ease. Put lavaliere mics on all participants including you, the moderator.
  3. Check the lighting.

    As important as it is to hear the speakers make certain every attendee can also see them. Your meeting participants want to see the panelists’ facial expressions and body language.
  4. Determine how audience questions are going to be handled.

    One arrangement is to have individuals line up at wired mics, another is having volunteers armed with wireless mics move to the individual with their hand up and yet another is to allow people to ask questions via text and social media. Best practices is a combination of the latter two, but make certain you have enough mics and volunteers in place to effectively handle your audience.

During Your Program

  1. Begin and end your program on time.

    With only 45 to 60 minutes of precious attendee time, start on time. Encourage a volunteer to let you know when you have 5, 2 and 1 minute left in the program.
  2. Provide a 30-second intro of each panelist.

    Don’t waste time reading to attendees what they can pick up in the program or from pre-event hype. Just give attendees enough information that they know a few key points about each person.
  3. State your objectives.

    Let meeting participants know why this topic is important to them and the industry and what you hope to accomplish in the next hour.
  4. Be an audience advocate.

    A good moderator thinks and supports the attendee…always. Be prepared to:

    Ask clarifying questions
    Cut-off panelists that have gone off topic
    Write down follow-up questions that the panelists’ can’t answer and let attendees know where those answers will be recorded (on a blog, online community, etc.).
  5. Go where the attendees are.

    Look at your audience frequently and read their body language. Are they leaning in and attentive? Are they asking engaging questions? Are they deep diving into the subject matter? If so, abandon your list of questions and let the discussion continue to grow. After all, you are moderating information exchange between attendees and the panel. If all is working properly, your job is easy. Just let it happen.

How Kalahari Can Help

With a dedicated audio visual staff that can work with your organization on stage set-up, a great sound/lighting system and seating, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions is the place to be for your next conference!

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