Best Practice in Panel Moderation

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As a Conference Producer do you often wish that your Moderators had done a better job?

Is it the Moderator, Panellists or interaction that seemed a little flat?

As Moderators, do you wish you’d had a clearer steer?

Chairing The Telegraph’s first conference for global CEOs on Digital Transformation, I was delighted to be complimented on my moderation and preparation by one of the speakers, a group COO of one of the UKs fastest growing TV companies, as the best he had experienced.

Sharing the process with other Speakers, Conference Producers and Panellists, it made me realise not everyone prepares as thoroughly, and that it would be great to share.

In 5 years of speaking on international platforms from TED to Gartner from London to Abu Dhabi to Cannes, I wanted to share these steps in Best Practice in Panel Moderation for you as Conference Producers and Moderators to help your Panels be well prepared. Choosing great speakers of course, is a whole other matter.


#1 Choose your Moderator wisely

Your Moderator must have industry knowledge on the subject matter abut to be debated. No matter how charming an orator, if a Panellist races through planned questions or uses specific-industry jargon, your Moderator must be able to ask intelligent questions on the subject in hand.

Your Moderator must also be able to stop senior figures in authority in full flow, charmingly.


#2 Introductions

Introduce your Moderator and Panellists as early as you possibly can, but no later than 6 weeks before your event. You must leave time for them to connect and the more senior the representation, the likelihood that their diaries are full.

Set expectations in the introductory email, of in what time frame the Moderator will be in touch.

Introduce Moderator and Panellists to each other in email with names, roles, a few lines bio and any background subject matter that they may have discussed with you previously or points of view they wished to make.

State why you have chosen the Moderator and their particular background, it will give your Moderators more leverage in discussion and positioning to make later amendments or suggestions in the smoother running of the Panel.

State key dates in the run up to the event, such as when any presentational material is needed and in what format if permissible in your Panel.


#3 Interviews

Ideally your Moderator should be in touch within all Panellists 48 hours after the introduction, which you will have agreed in advance with your Moderator to ensure they have the time before the introductions are made. The Moderator should try to co-ordinate group call with all individuals as soon as diaries allow for.

If, owing to the seniority of Panellists their diary arrangements cannot coincide, Moderators should call each Panellist separately and note their key Point of View, and/or answer to 5 specific questions on the Panel subject.

The Moderator should agree with the Panellists a way to politely move them or get them to wrap up their point in advance so it’s not a surprise or annoyance on the day.


#4 Scripting and Sequencing

After all Panellists have been interviewed by the Moderator, the Moderator can then start to produce the Panel flow. The Moderator needs to decide if all the questions are to be put to all Panellists in turn, or in which order or if separate Panellists have separate questions.

A good way to organise the flow is to type up all questions and the answers that the Panellists gave in their interviews in different colours. As a Moderator it’s then much easier to decide which is a question to all, which questions should follow each other and what points each Panellist should be asked. This acts as a Panel script.

The Moderator should then send the script advance to all Panellists, so that they are clear which questions will be asked of them, what answers other Panellists have given and from their previous discussion/interview what points they should bring out when asked a particular question in full. This also gives Panellists an opportunity to make additional points or correct small issues.

Moderators need to make a decision about which questions are essential to ask, which questions are nice to have, or pulled into audience Question and Answer session if that is part of the Panel session. They can then choose which question to ask to give the audience a warm introduction to their own questions.

If you have three Panellists and a 20-minute Panel session you realistically will only get three questions each. The script should be resent to them when it is ready and again 48 hours before the event.

Check with each of the Panellists how they wish to be introduced, it often differs from their formal title. If the Event Organisers are using Social Media, check the Panellists Twitter accounts to display with their photograph, name, title and picture on a screen whilst the Panel is in process.


#5 On the event

The conference organisers should introduce the Moderator and Panellists as soon as they arrive at the event.

The Moderator should have a précised version of the script on a mini iPad for referral on stage on the event.


#6 On the Panel

As Moderator, introduce each of your Panellists in turn. If you are encouraging the audience to use social media, point the audience to the display or agenda where the speakers Twitter names are shown or share verbally.

Introduce yourself as Moderator, frame the session for the audience in terms of timing, share what the panel is debating and inform the audience how open questions will be addressed, then start your questions to the Panellists.


#7 Wrapping up

The Moderator should pick one key point that the Panellists have made in summary of the session and advise the audience if they have more time with Panellists later in the day or at an evening function. Thanks the Panellists and audience and wrap up on time.

Give the key points to the Conference Organisers, particularly anyone whose responsibility it is to blog about the event.


Tiffany St James is a keynote speaker on Digital, Social Media, Technology, Innovation and Women in Business. For speaking engagement enquiries please email

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