Master Moderating Skills — The Dynamic Inquisitor

Revisiting this article I wrote in 2009. Unfortunately it needs repeating.

See if this scenario is familiar to you: You are attending a panel discussion with one moderator and four panelists. The session is 45 minutes. The moderator opens the session with, “OK, I guess we should get started. I’ll let the panelists introduce themselves.” Each of the four takes the opportunity to plug themselves and their company. By the time the fourth panelist finishes, fifteen minutes have elapsed.

Finally the moderator asks the first panelist a question, then asks the next three the same question. Typically, one panelist dominates the discussion with no interruption. Another twenty minutes have passed and there is a mere ten minutes left for questions. There were no debates, no follow-up and only one question was ever raised. The moderator had no control over the panelists and never reacted to anything that was said.

Unfortunately, this same scenario is repeated all too often.

A talented, professional moderator holds him or herself to the same standards as any speaker and would never let the opportunity for four experts to waste a valuable 45 minute session go to waste. Moderating a panel is no less important than being a keynote speaker. Watch dynamic moderators. You’ll notice a major difference in the energy, tone and value you get from a panel discussion.

I learned good moderating skills by studying the masters at professional conferences. I could spot a bad moderator the minute the person stepped up the stage. I knew this person either had control and confidence or was there to do nothing more than stand helplessly by as the panel quickly turned into an advertising session for each company represented on the stage. The entire session was a wasted opportunity to learn something and the moderator was less than impressive.

To turn yourself into a pro, follow my four simple rules to becoming an expert moderator. Turn content free panels into content rich, debate driven exciting sessions.

1.) After you have invited and received acceptance from your panelists, send a list to each panelist advising who else will be on the panel. Ask for bios and achievements from each. Know who these people are, what they have accomplished and the position of each company in the food chain.

The day of the session invite all panelists to meet you in the Green room 15 minutes before the panel so they can meet in person. After introductions, tell the panelist the format you will begin with and, nicely, that you may interrupt them during the discussion if you feel it necessary. This way they won’t be offended, or surprised.

2.) Do your homework on the topics. Ask others who have expertise you don’t something controversial to include in your list of prepared questions. Find out if one company won a contract or beat out another for a development.

3.) You introduce each panelist by name, position and company. That’s it. Never, ever let panelists introduce themselves. It eats up time and offers no real value to the discussion.

4.) Never ask each panelist the same question. Ask each a different question then you can come around with a challenge from one panelist to another. Challenge an answer and then get one of the other panelists to step in and offer another point of view. Try and get a debate going. Lively dialog builds once it is introduced.

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Master researcher, journalist and non-fiction author. My new book, San Francisco Values will be out in June 2020. Connect with me at

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