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Guidelines for Moderating a Panel
By Mitchell Friedman   Printer Friendly Version

Panel presentations consisting of two or more talks on a topic are a popular vehicle for communicating information. The panel moderator, the individual who coordinates this type of presentation, is critical for ensuring its success.

The effective panel moderator has two main objectives: making sure individual speakers are prepared, and that the speakers collectively deliver a cohesive presentation that meets overall program objectives. The following guidelines will help moderators meet these objectives. Individual tasks have been divided into those that should be completed before and at the event.

BEFORE THE EVENT

  1. After reviewing information on the event, sponsoring organization, and attendees, determine the purpose of the panel presentation. Focus on how it fits into the theme of the event or program. Identify three or four main points individuals should learn by attending the panel presentation.

  2. Invite individual presenters based on the following criteria: standing in the company or industry; ability to speak on the topic, and complement (or counter, depending on the topic) perspectives offered by other panelists and willingness to speak within the designated time limit. The latter point is especially important, as many speakers prove unable to limit their remarks to a set amount of time (usually, between ten and twenty minutes).

    You should offer individual speakers guidance on specific points or issues you want them to cover in their talks. Sharing directions given to individual speakers with all panel participants will help reduce the chance of repetition. Emphasize to the speakers that blatant self-promotion or commercialism will not be tolerated -- unless the panel itself is a demonstration of competitive products or services.

    It's also wise to identify at least two more candidates for presentations than you have spaces on the panel, given that one or more of the individuals you invite may be unable to participate.

  3. Once an individual has accepted your invitation to speak, confirm his or her participation in writing. Provide information regarding the day, time, and place of the panel, with instructions on how they can get to the facility; the purpose of the event, a schedule of other activities (including whether or not there is a meal function to which they are invited as a guest of the sponsoring organization), and a profile on attendees; panel objectives; the names of other speakers, affiliations, and contact information; the length of time for prepared remarks; the amount of time allotted to questions from attendees; and how they can contact you.

  4. Confirm spelling and pronunciation of speakers' names, titles, and affiliations. Request biographies, background information, and audiovisual equipment required, if any. Immediately forward audiovisual requirements to the person responsible. You should also communicate any special room arrangements at this time to the appropriate person at the facility where the panel will be held.

    In a large room, you'll want one microphone per speaker, plus one for you and one in the audience that can be used during the question and answer session. You might need only one -- or perhaps none -- in a smaller room. Seek the advice of the person handling audiovisual requirements regarding what works best.

  5. After confirming individual speakers and before the presentation, follow up to answer questions and, as necessary, assist with presentation development.

  6. Ask if the speakers will have materials to distribute to attendees. Before the event, review these materials. You'll be able to incorporate this information into your introduction, and confidently refer attendees to it if they have questions afterwards. Confirm the quantity of handouts needed based on projected attendance, and notify speakers. Request that they reproduce these items for the event, and bring them. If this quantity is large, the speaker is traveling a long distance to participate, or if the speaker asks, you should arrange to have handouts copied by the sponsoring organization.

  7. Write your introduction for the panel, which relates the panel presentation to the event as a whole. You should answer two main questions in this one minute long introduction: why are we covering this subject? Why should attendees hear about it now?

  8. Write your introductions for the speakers. It's recommended that each speaker be introduced briefly at the beginning of the event, then in more detail before the actual presentation. The latter introduction serves as a bridge between the different speakers. Your initial introduction should mention the speaker's name, title, and affiliation. The latter, longer introduction (30 seconds maximum) should highlight the subject of the speaker's talk, other expertise thatıs relevant to this subject, and how it relates to material presented by the previous speaker.

  9. A day or two before the event, call panelists to confirm time and place of a meeting on the day of the event to meet each other and review panel logistics (see 2 and 3 below). You also should tell them the order in which theyıll be speaking during this phone call.

ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT

  1. Check the setup of the room, and make sure that microphones and audiovisual equipment work.

  2. Conduct a final briefing with panelists. Review the flow of panel, speaking order, presentation length, the timing mechanism (see 3 below), and the availability of their handouts, if any. (Consult with the speaker on whether handouts should be left for attendees when they arrive, or made available after the panel for those interested.) Confirm availability of individual speakers after the conclusion of the panel for one-on-one conversations with audience members.

  3. Time the individual speakers. Establish a signal that informs speakers when they should conclude their remarks. Depending on where the moderator is seated, this signal could be a piece of paper pushed in the direction of the panelist or sounding a chime or bell.

    Emphasize to the speakers the importance of concluding their remarks within the allotted time. Presentations that are too long may limit the time available to other speakers, as well as the length of the question and answer period. Neither situation is likely to win the appreciation of attendees.

  4. Introduce the panel, as outlined in 7 above.

  5. Introduce the individual speakers, as outlined in 8 above. After the initial speaker introductions, inform attendees that complete speaker information will be provided before individual presentations. Explain the format of the panel, including time allotted for speaker remarks and the question and answer session.

  6. At the conclusion of the prepared remarks, solicit questions. If a microphone is unavailable for attendees to use, it may be wise to repeat questions. Be sure to take questions from different sections of the audience. As much as possible, try to take questions from new people before allowing someone to ask a second question. If there are a lot of questions, encourage panelists to keep their answers brief. At the appropriate time, announce that panelists will entertain one or two more questions to signal that the presentation is about to conclude.

  7. At conclusion of the question and answer period, thank the speakers. Mention that each will (or won't) be available to answer additional questions immediately after the event, or in the future. Return the control of the meeting to a designated event official or dismiss the audience yourself, whichever is appropriate.

  8. As soon as possible after the conclusion of the event, send thank you notes to the individual panelists, event coordinator, and others involved in planning. For the speakers, include feedback you received either informally from attendees, or that which is relayed to you by the program chair that has received the evaluation forms.

(Copyright 2000 Mitchell Friedman This material cannot be copied on any medium without express written permission of Mitchell Friedman)


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