9 tips for moderators to help panelists excel

Asking the right questions to keep the flow going involves careful preparation and taking the audience’s pulse at the outset. Above all, listen carefully before posing the next query.

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Arbitrary guidelines do exist for how much time moderators should talk—some coaches recommend a 90/10 or 80/20 panelist-to-moderator split—but the best recommendation is to remain mindful that your primary role is less to be a star than to create them.

The following nine tips will help you guide a conversation that allows the most interesting tidbits to emerge:

1. Choose the right first question to set the mood.

You can begin the panel with an open-ended “scene-setting” question, which often results in longer answers that provide a useful overview of the topic, or a closed-ended question, which helps narrow the focus of the topic from the start and lends an immediate burst of energy. Either can work well.

2. Ask questions in a different order.

Instead of asking questions to your panelists in a predictable order, vary the sequence to prevent an obvious pattern from forming. For one question, you can ask all your panelists to respond. For the next, ask one person to respond and another to react to that answer. For another, ask a question to just one person and then direct a new question to a different panelist.

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