5 Ways to Balance Panelist Airtime During a Panel Discussion

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One of the core values for all moderators is the notion of “fairness” and to balance panelist airtime. Every panelist should have roughly the same number of questions asked of him/her, the same type of questions (hardball to softie), and the same amount of time to speak.  And when that doesn’t happen, it becomes glaringly obvious. 

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There are five ways a panelist gets airtime:

  • The moderator asks a direct question to a panelist.
  • The moderator allows a panelist to respond because the panelist’s name was invoked in the question or in the response to a question (otherwise known as a rebut).
  • The moderator selects a panelist to respond to another panelist’s remarks.
  • The moderator fails to intervene and allows a panelist to speak beyond the time limits set at the beginning of the panel OR what is appropriate for the session.
  • The panelist so strongly butts into the conversation that the moderator yields the floor to that panelist.

ALL of these are in the hands of the moderator, so pay attention to who is contributing and for how long.

Take five active steps to balance panelist airtime:

  • Ask quieter panelists whether they have anything to add before you move on to another question.
  • Address new questions first to people who have spoken less.
  • Look for the quieter panelists who are trying to interject and facilitate their interruption.
  • Tell a panelist to keep their answer or interjection brief (or to hold it entirely) for the sake of time.
  • Interrupt a panelist if they’re taking over.

Radio and podcast host Stephanie Zvan says, “I know it can feel rude to signal to a speaker that they’re talking too much, but it’s also rude to your other panelists and to your audience to let one or two people dominate the discussion. People committed their time to your event expecting a panel, not a speech.”

Related Articles:

How to Create GREAT Panel Questions

How to Moderate a Virtual Panel Discussion

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions


For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series or our other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Photo: depositphotos.com

Kristin Arnold

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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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