This post will close out my series on tips for panel presentations with some guidelines for panel moderators or facilitators.
I'll start by expanding on a point I touched on briefly in an earlier post: As a moderator, you need to be a liaison between the speakers and the audience. If a presenter isn't clear about a point they are making, it's your job to fix that for the audience. You may choose to restate one of his key points or you may ask the presenter to clarify or elucidate. If a panelist is speaking in academic, abstract terms, you need to help relate her facts to the audience's priorities and help them understand how they can apply the information in practical use.
Part of your job is to play "traffic cop" with the panelists. You want to make sure everybody gets a chance to speak, but you don't have to be slavish to a strict round robin order. Avoid the temptation to go straight down the line on every topic point. If someone has covered a topic or answered a question sufficiently, you can move on to another question and bring in a different speaker. If one of your panelists is less assertive than the others and doesn't speak up as much, make sure to call on them every so often to make sure they are heard from.
On a webinar, you can usually send private messages to panelists behind the scenes. In stage-based presentations you don't have that luxury. So as part of your rehearsal, you might want to work out some signals that indicate when someone is running long and needs to finish up a statement. Maybe "accidentally" clinking a water glass near your microphone. Or pushing your chair back. Or leaning forward a bit and raising your hand slightly.
If you have the luxury of an assistant, put them in the back of the room standing against the back wall. You signal your assistant (simply meeting their eyes and nodding slightly) and they give a cut throat signal to the speaker or hold up a yellow card. Speakers should know that the moderator will be doing this in an attempt to keep things flowing and to get everyone involved. It is not a personal attack!
As a last resort, you may simply need to cut in on a panelist who doesn't realize that they are monopolizing the conversation or going on too long with a single point. Here are some phrases that can help in this delicate situation:
- Bob, it's obvious you have a lot of information and opinions on this topic. I'm going to give you a chance to expand on this a little later, but first I'd like to see if Jane wants to jump in with her view on the question.
- You brought up a really interesting point there, and I'd like to bring Jane into the conversation and ask for her take on it.
- (Clear throat) Oh, I'm sorry, Mike. But as long as I've interrupted anyway, I do want to move us along, so maybe if you can quickly finish that thought I'll bring Jane in for her impressions.
As an extra bonus, here are a few phrases that I have used when time is getting short in the overall session:
- Bob, I’m just going to cut in for a moment here to remind our audience that even though our time is getting limited, they should be thinking about questions to ask during our Q&A coming up shortly.
- Bob, we don't have a lot of time left, but what do you think is the most important takeaway here?
- Let's see if we can slip in just one more question very quickly…
I hope this series has helped give you some new ways of thinking about making your panel more effective for the audience and more structured and comfortable for the participants. Coordination, preparation, and planning are the keys to delivering an engaging discussion where everyone comes across professionally and confidently.