How To Lead A Panel
August 5, 2011 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Looking for pointers for leading a great panel discussion or roundtable interview, in front of an audience. Tell me something that made an event you attended really memorable (in a good way), and/or give me some examples of what not to do. Thanks!
posted by hermitosis to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's definitely a sweet spot between not enough preparation and too much, but do nail down some talking points with your speakers ahead of time.

In my experience, it's actually better for things to feel a little rushed than for things to feel slow. Especially if you have the luxury of likable speakers, a panel that's a little rushed can feel like a fun dinner party.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:49 AM on August 5, 2011

When it comes time for the audience to ask questions, have a person (I guess this would be you, as the leader) loudly and clearly repeat each question before the panelists start answering. No matter how well the panel may be going, it always bothers me as an audience member when you can't hear half the questions being asked, and have to sort out what they might have been based on context from the answer.
posted by phunniemee at 10:53 AM on August 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

how many participants will you have and how much time? what are your learning objectives? i think building in intentional audience interaction, if possible, is important - people have many different learning styles and lecture does not reach many audience members the same way that interaction can. that said, i would make sure you use microphones if possible for both the panelists and the participants to ensure that everyone has access to the conversation. if powerpoint is used, it should be minimal so that participants are listening to the panelists, instead of reading the screen. film/video clips are good ways to get the audience engaged and conversational. panelist monologues are deadly.
posted by anya32 at 10:57 AM on August 5, 2011

I was an audience member in a panel discussion at a local deli recently, that included Michael Pollan as one of the panelists. He was delightful and a great speaker, so having good panelists definitely makes a difference. The only thing I thought would have made it better would have been if the moderator had brought up topics that the panelists disagreed on -- good naturedly, but disagreement nonetheless. At the deli discussion, everyone was in basic agreement about all of the points! It made the event feel like a bit of propoganda rather than a sincere and lively discussion (though I was still very happy to hear what Michael Pollan had to say).
posted by JenMarie at 11:01 AM on August 5, 2011

This is all very helpful, but to add a bit of specificity, in my situation there will be one main interviewee and then three or four people in the panel asking them questions and so forth. Sort of like "The View," I guess.
posted by hermitosis at 11:09 AM on August 5, 2011

Three things I've noticed that panel moderators do that can really hurt a panel.

1) The intro is too short. Explain who the panelists are and what the subject for discussion is.
2) The questions are too long. Prepare every question, and try to make it only one sentence long.
3) Letting conversations go on uninterrupted. Don't be afraid to break up a conversation, especially if two of the panelists are hogging the mic (keeping a tally of who has spoken is one method to keep track of that).
posted by Kattullus at 11:21 AM on August 5, 2011

Don't steal the panelists' thunder in your introduction. I have seen a lot of "introductions" which are basically executive summaries of whatever Mr. Panelist will say and then Mr. Panelist is kind of flummoxed.
posted by resurrexit at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to moderate panels at anime conventions and I almost always worked out with the guests ahead of time the things I'd be asking. If needed and if they were being introduced one at a time, I'd go over my introduction with them first. If that person has talking points, find out what there are and try to get the other guests to steer the conversation in that direction. If the organization hosting has points, do the same. If there are conversational landmines, do not go near them at all.

I second the "repeat the audience question thing" because unless there are good monitors on stage, sometimes the people on stage can't hear what's being said. (Once, we wore in-ear pieces which gave us the feed from the floor mics. Very snazzy!) Yes, don't hog the panel for yourself. You are there to make the other people (and your organization) look good. Interact, and have fun, but it's all about your guests.
posted by TrishaLynn at 12:39 PM on August 5, 2011

Never ever do a Jian Ghomeshi and respond with “I want to get to that, but” when the guest says something interesting or leading. Go with what they said right away; do not interview from a checklist.
posted by joeclark at 11:31 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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