Having attended several conferences recently, I was struck by the importance of good panel moderation.

A good moderator makes a panel flow and engages the audience. A bad moderator turns an interesting topic into a snore-fest. A good moderator takes their job seriously. They recognize that they can make a panel awesome rather than okay.

Here are some “rules” that every moderator should follow:

Before the panelists hit the stage, a moderator needs to know them and their interests. It’s not enough to introduce yourself minutes before a panel starts. A moderator should contact each panelist days or weeks in advance to learn about what they want to talk about and the questions to ask. As well, the moderator should be clear about the format and the rules of engagement.

A good panel is a conversation, not a Q&A session. Too many panels have a panelist ask a question, and then have each person answer it. To me, that’s a boring format.

Instead, a panel is a lively and animated conversation between the panelists. The moderator keeps everything moving, ensures that every panelist hasĀ an opportunity to participate and prevents a panelist dominates the conversation.

Panels need drama. When panelists agree on everything or they’re too polite, that’s uninspiring. A good moderator encourages discourse, disagreements, and counter-arguments. Having done their pre-panel interviews, the moderator has the insight about how to pit panelists against each other.

Panels are entertainment. Truth be told, many people at a conferenceĀ could easily be on stage. To engage the audience, panels need to be entertaining, sort of like reality television. Sure, people learn and pick up ideas but they entertainment is important.

A good moderator knows the audience. They understand what they do for a living, their interests, what they want to know and what makes for a successful experience.

And the audience is engaged. It’s easy for people to just listen and sit on their hands during a panel. A good moderator gets the audience involved. They ask for their opinions, encourage their participation and make it easy to ask questions. When I moderate panels, I like it when people in the audience ask questions during a session rather than waiting until the end.

Bottom line: A moderator plays a key role in making a panel interesting and engaging. While the panelists are the stars of the show, the moderator sets the stage and allows the stars to shine.

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