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The Five Requirements for Moderating a Panel Discussion
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The Five Requirements for Moderating a Panel Discussion

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Last night I attended a local marketing association meeting advertised as a panel discussion around affiliate marketing. I had been to a handful of the networking/educational presentations put on by …

Last night I attended a local marketing association meeting advertised as a panel discussion around affiliate marketing. I had been to a handful of the networking/educational presentations put on by this association over the last year or two and found them energizing, entertaining and true to their promised program content. That’s why I was so disappointed when the panel discussion was a big ‘ole flop. I had hoped to have a rich blog on affiliate marketing programs, but instead I walked away with a list of ideas on how to be a better moderator and panelist.

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  • 1. The Five Requirements for Moderating a Panel Discussion Last night I attended a local marketing association meeting advertised as a panel discussion around affiliate marketing. I had been to a handful of the networking/educational presentations put on by this association over the last year or two and found them energizing, entertaining and true to their promised program content. That’s why I was so disappointed when the panel discussion was a big ‘ole flop. I had hoped to have a rich blog on affiliate marketing programs, but instead I walked away with a list of ideas on how to be a better moderator and panelist.Panel Discussion I do not proclaim to even be a good public speaker and I truly admire anyone with the gumption to speak in front of a large crowd. Yet I was bewildered by what seemed like a genuine lack of preparation, and having attended enough panel discussions in my time, I feel confident in saying that the following five recommendations—no, requirements—are imperative for a successful panel discussion. The moderator should moderate, not present If you’re knowledgeable about a topic, it can be incredibly hard to take a back seat and not want to dominate the discussion with your insights and experiences. However, when you agree to the role of moderator, you are essentially saying you will use your expertise to facilitate a discussion amongst other thought leaders…and bite your tongue the rest of the time. Unfortunately the moderator of the affiliate marketing panel prepared a PowerPoint presentation and dominated the allotted time speaking in detail to each of the slides—10+ bullets. It would be an easy default for any of us who didn’t prepare to truly moderate the discussion. Therefore, if you find yourself moderating a panel and choose to use a PowerPoint presentation: • • • Create slides with a single question you want to put forth to your panelists If you need a set-up slide to set the stage for the question, it should ideally be a graph, chart or image to support your commentary Your commentary for the slides should not take more than 1-2 minutes Clearly state what the topic of discussion is about During the first hour of the event, I had the opportunity to network amongst my peers, which for the record was great! I happened to pick the table where one of the moderators was sitting and he offered to answer any questions we might have about affiliate marketing. He remarked that it was a very complex concept and that often, even after spending an hour or so with a CEO, they still don’t understand how it works. I’m sure the moderator knew the topic was complicated and all the more reason he should have spent a few minutes educating the audience. Even if it wasn’t, a moderator should set the stage for the discussion and clearly articulate what the topic
  • 2. is and the points that will be covered. Think agenda slide. You might be asking, what if I have a sophisticated and knowledgeable audience? Ask them to bear with you while you level set with anyone who may be new to the topic. If anything, it’ll boost their ego when they realize how much they already know. Hold prep calls with the panelists The CEO of one of the clients that I manage was chosen to moderate a panel at last year’s TechServe Alliance conference. I had the pleasure of helping coordinate his session. We had three calls in advance of the event and met again the day of the session to ensure we were buttoned up. We defined the topics to be covered and ensured the panelists could appropriately address them with a point of view and examples. You can’t control everything, especially when you willingly take questions from the audience, but if you agree to take on the responsibility of leading a panel it’s important to ensure your audience will get value from what is covered. A sure fire way to do that is to work closely with the panelists to help coach them through their responses. Ask clear and concise questions Duh, right? Moderators, you cannot “wing” a panel discussion. Crafting clear, concise questions your audience would likely ask if given the floor, will set the path for a fruitful conversation. Honestly, I could hardly believe it, but the moderator had no prepared questions! None. Zero. Nada. Sadly, the panelists were paralyzed in being able to effectively contribute to the discussion. Prompt clear and concise answers Again, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to prep with panelists prior to the event. Just like moderators can’t lead on the fly, panelists shouldn’t shoot from the hip. As a moderator, you can help them deliver synthesized answers by asking specific open-ended questions that request they highlight a past experience or example. If a panelist gets long winded, help them wrap up their thought by letting them know you need another panelist to respond and asking them to state their key takeaway in one sentence. Public speaking, serving as a panel moderator or a panelist, are great ways to help you build your personal brand and demonstrate your thought leadership. However, you can quickly damage your reputation if you aren’t prepared, as was the case with the moderator of the marketing association event I attended. Being thoughtful about the topic and what you believe the audience wants to know is a great place to start. Craft your questions accordingly and then work closely with panelists to deliver answers that will fill your audience with new ideas and approaches…and waiting for the next time you’ll be leading a panel.