The conference buzzes with excitement, and it’s time for the panel you’re hosting. People chat, look at their phones, and stick their heads in the door. Energy mounts. You check the time, look at your panellists, and clear your throat. 

All eyes turn to you. 

Now what?

In this post, Anne Dickerson tells you how to maximize those key moments at the very beginning of your panel. 

 “Hook ‘em fast,” she says. “What I like from the moderator is some kind of movie trailer. ‘Coming up, you won’t BELIEVE what happened to Bill.’”

Set yourself up for success with a pre-call with your panellists. “When I am training a moderator to lead an important panel discussion, it’s one of the easiest things to add into the prep work that has the biggest payoff.” Find out something surprising about each one. “Tease out of your guest a personal fact that’s not easily Google-able,” Dickerson says. If your panellist is an oceanographer, for example, you could share that at eight years old, she spent her nights cross-breeding fish. “Then you’ve given the audience something they can’t get anywhere else.”

This technique also steers you away from what Dickerson calls “the 1st deadly sin of a dull moderator,” which is reading panellists’ biographies aloud. “People come in to hear something really interesting, and instead they’re sent to sleep immediately with a moderator reciting the bios of the people on the panel. They can read that themselves.”

Another pitfall is starting with announcements, or “too much housekeeping at the top of the panel,” Dickerson says. “This filibustering” is boring for those who got there on time and results in the moderator “putting the brakes on” the panel right when it should be firing up.

And once you have everyone’s attention? “Ask something controversial or intriguing or difficult,” she says. Do that, and the rest of your panel will be just as engaging as the beginning. 

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Eliza  McGraw

Eliza McGraw

Editorial Director

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