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Panel moderators use open-ended questions to incite conversation and closed questions to summarize or exact a short answer from a panelist.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  We all know the person who can take a closed question and ramble on and on OR the teenager who can take an open-ended question and turn it into a closed question:

“Hi honey!  How was your day?” (open)

“Fine” (closed)

A skilled moderator will rephrase the question to illicit a more extensive response:

“What was the best thing about your day today?” (open)

“Nothing.” (closed)

Ahhhh, the joys of parenting!  Well, the same thing can happen on a panel.  Be thoughtful about the phrasing of your question.  Are you trying to open up the discussion or pinpoint a position?

For the 2019-2020 Democratic Debates, (which I have been commenting on),  it’s been a 65/35 split: 65% open-ended questions and 35% closed questions:

Type#%Debate 1aDebate 1bDebate 2aDebate 2bDebate 3Debate 4Debate 5Debate 6Debate 7
Total # of  questions477605257405276454352

That seems pretty reasonable to me.  However, that’s not the interesting part.  Of those closed questions (35% of the questions on average), the candidates could respond in three ways:

  1. Answer the question right away
  2. Answer the question within the allotted timeframe
  3. Not answer the question at all

On average, the candidates didn’t answer the closed question about a third of the time!

Answered Right Away11117481581217
Answered After Explanation341113432
Didn’t Answer634478564
Repeated Question/Follow Up232123132
% of Closed Questions didn’t answer30%17%33%44%44%31%29%29%17%

Ahhh. But here’s the really interesting part: If the candidate didn’t answer the closed question at all, the moderator would only follow up on those questions 40%  of the time (on average).  Some debate moderators are better at this than others!

% of Closed Questions not answered – but followed up33%100%50%25%29%38%20%50%50%

So I gotta ask: Why should you answer a direct, tough question when the moderator will follow up less than half the time?



For more information, check out my website at www.RulesAnalyst.com.  Book me now to comment (live , Zoom, or pre-recorded interviews) on the next debate by calling me at 480.399.8489 or set up a time to talk here

Related Articles:

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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