“A Panel of Five” Moderators for the First Democratic Primary Debate!?

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NBC just announced “a panel of five” moderators for the first Democratic Primary Debate:

I find it slightly odd that there is a “panel of moderators” to moderate the first Democratic party primary debate/panel.  A panel for a panel?  How bizarre!  This is an unprecedented number of mainstage moderators (the 2016 Third Republican Primary had three moderators and three guests who asked a few questions, but that doesn’t sound the same, does it?).  Perhaps this has something to do with the DNC promise to have a woman and a person of color moderating the debate?

Thankfully, they will NOT all be on the dais at the same time.  According to NBC, “Both debate nights will have the same format. Holt will moderate the first hour, with Guthrie and Diaz-Balart appearing alongside him; Holt will also appear in the second hour, with Todd and Maddow moderating.”  Yep, got all the boxes checked – woman AND a person of color – during each hour!

As a professional panel moderator, I don’t envy Holt’s position.  It is hugely harder to moderate a panel with others involved than it is to do it yourself.  Multiply that by two sets of moderators per event – and the debates span two days in order to cram all 20 candidates in!

There are some benefits to co-moderating (or co-facilitating) a debate or panel discussion:

  • Multi-focus.  The moderator who is not “front and center” can more keenly observe group behaviors and individual responses to what’s going on.  See who has been hogging the airtime, interrupting others or unable to get a word in edgewise!  BTW, just because you are not front and center this does not mean you can “take a break” and check your email! (Believe me; I have seen this boorish behavior!)
  • Synergy. Two heads are always better than one, particularly during the planning phase.  Even better if the moderators have different, complementary skills.
  • Comraderie.  It’s alot more fun and interesting to collaborate with others.  And when the audience sees that you’re having fun with each other, they will too!
  • Change of Pace. Especially during long events, the audience appreciates seeing a new face and fresh perspective.

However, working as part of a moderation team takes more planning and coordination than might be required when working alone.  In the planning phase, make sure you:

  • Share expectations, preferences and styles.
  • Clarify roles, the agenda, timeframes and how the event will proceed.
  • Brainstorm different formats to spark interest and intrigue.
  • Coordinate questions to ensure you are covering the landscape and not being redundant.
  • Discuss how you will support and intervene with the panelists and each other.
  • Role play potential conflicts or problems that might arise.

Indeed, it is much more fun and interesting to co-moderate a panel discussion – yet it takes much more work!


Related Articles:

How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments

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 resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.

Photo (Canva)


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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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