The panel moderator is similar to an orchestra conductor. Their job is to make sure the speakers on the panel look good and that the panel discussion goes smoothly and stays on time. Though a good panel moderator makes it look easy, it does take a certain skill to pull it off. It’s a delicate balance of talking just enough, but not too much as to overshadow your panelists. A good panel moderator should have a thorough knowledge of the topic. This helps them know the most interesting questions to bring up, and knowing some background on the topic helps fill in the gaps.

Being a good panel moderator requires effective communication, organization, and the ability to facilitate engaging and insightful discussions. Here are some tips to help you excel in this role:

Prepare and Research

Familiarize yourself with the topic of the panel discussion and research the backgrounds of the panelists. This will help you ask relevant and thought-provoking questions and facilitate meaningful conversations.

Set Clear Objectives

Define the purpose and objectives of the panel discussion. Communicate these goals to the panelists and the audience at the beginning of the session. This will provide direction and keep the discussion focused.

Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

Start the panel by introducing yourself, the panelists, and the topic. Set a positive and inclusive tone to create a comfortable and engaging environment for both the panelists and the audience.

Develop a Structure

Organize the panel discussion by establishing a structure. Decide on the order and timing of each panelist’s contribution. Ensure that each panelist has an opportunity to share their insights and allow for interactive discussions.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Craft questions that encourage panelists to share their expertise and insights. Pose open-ended questions that spark discussion and debate. Be an active listener, and follow up on panelists’ responses with additional probing questions to delve deeper into the topic.

Manage Time Effectively

Keep track of time throughout the panel discussion. Ensure that each panelist has an equal opportunity to speak and that the discussion stays on track. Politely intervene if a panelist exceeds their allotted time or if the conversation veers off-topic.

Encourage Interaction

Foster an interactive dialogue among the panelists. Encourage panelists to respond to each other’s comments and engage in respectful debates. Also, involve the audience by allowing time for questions or incorporating interactive elements like live polls or audience participation.

Stay Neutral and Impartial

As a moderator, strive to remain neutral and impartial. Avoid expressing personal opinions or biases that may influence the discussion. Your role is to facilitate a balanced conversation and give every panelist an opportunity to share their perspectives.

Manage Difficult Situations

In case of conflicting opinions or tense moments, maintain control and manage the situation diplomatically. Stay calm, mediate disputes respectfully, and guide the discussion toward constructive outcomes. Ensure that all panelists feel heard and respected.

Conclude Effectively

Summarize the key points and takeaways from the panel discussion. Thank the panelists for their valuable contributions and encourage the audience to continue the conversation beyond the session. Offer any closing remarks or resources related to the topic for further exploration.

Choose interesting and diverse panelists 

Use diversity to choose panelists who will complement each other, but also offer a different point of view on the topic at hand. I recently moderated a panel of entrepreneurs and chose a group who were each successful in their own right but arrived at success as an entrepreneur in very different ways. The topic was about funding a business. One of them bootstrapped a business on credit cards and loans from family and friends, another one started out as a celebrity athlete and used her winnings to start a business, and another was able to get angel funding and venture capital to fund a business.

Be in the moment 

A good panel moderator will know how to run with a fascinating comment and expand on it. Instead of getting too caught up in your list of questions you have to get through, if one of your panelists brings up an interesting question or comment you haven’t thought of, get the other panelists in on it. Have them talk to each other and encourage them to ask each other questions. Watch the audience. Are they on the edge of their seats at that moment or checking their text messages? If you see that they are intrigued, explore the issue further. One reason you shouldn’t prep too much is so you can get more of these surprise moments. If you have a smart moderator who asks good, probing questions, and smart panelists you will probably have a lively discussion.

Have good timing 

The best comedians have an intuitive sense of comedic timing. It’s something that’s hard to define. Kind of like you know it when you see it. But like most things, it can be learned, and definitely has to be practiced over and over again to perfect. If you want to perfect your timing, find some places where you can practice your skills as a moderator  for free. Get the bugs out at a local Chamber of Commerce or school event where they won’t be so critical of you. Focus on listening to and watching your panelists and the audience and staying in the moment. Watch a good conductor and how they work the orchestra. Good

Remember, being a good panel moderator requires practice and adaptability. By applying these tips, you can create an engaging and informative panel discussion that leaves a lasting impact on both the panelists and the audience.


Not all speakers are able to handle the role of panel moderator. You have to be able to forget about content and switch off your ego for the good of the group. It’s not about your opinion, but the opinions of the panelists and the needs of the audience.

If you’ve been a panel moderator, what did you learn and what advice would you give to a speaker doing it for the first time?




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