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I was facilitating a roundtable discussion at an un-named conference recently and watched an A/V perfect storm – a confluence of events that, individually would have been no big deal.  Taken together, it was severely irritating.

What happened?

  1. The moderator and first panelist experienced some feedback.  So after some adjusting of their lavaliere microphones (up and down the tie!), the exasperated panelist just moved his chair further away from the moderator.
  2. When the panelists spoke, it took a few words for the sound to be amplified, and then it may (or may not) have been at the appropriate sound level.
  3. The moderator and panelists were all fairly soft-spoken – which is surprising for a group of executives – and made it not only difficult to hear, but not that exciting.

So what happened behind the scenes?

The A/V tech (who I believe was fairly inexperienced) did a sound check of the microphones, but failed to do a sound level.  Big difference.  Sound check means the microphone is working.  Sound level is the setting on the A/V board for that particular speaker wearing the microphone at a certain place.  Most A/V techs will mark the level on the board.

Furthermore, the A/V tech adjusted the audio levels each time a panelist spoke.  If you have a crackerjack A/V tech who can forecast who is going to speak, this is a fine strategy.  Didn’t work for this event.

Finally, the chairs were just too darn comfortable.  Low to the ground with a deep, wide seat, the executives slouched in their chairs resulting in a very comfortable, low key conversation.

To prevent this perfect storm from happening to you, I suggest these following tips for audiences over 75 people.

Note: For audiences under 50 people, you may be able to get away without using microphones. Between 50-75, it’s nice to have. Over 75, use some kind of amplification system. Even if you don’t think you need it, other people will appreciate it!

  • Moderator. The moderator should always have a lavaliere microphone or use the lectern microphone.  When moving into the audience for Q&A, the moderator needs an additional wireless handheld to capture audience comments.

I prefer to use a Samson E-50 headset that plugs into the lavaliere pack.  The audio is fabulous and the Samson has three different plugs (Shure, Audo-Technica and Sennheiser) so it will plug in to just about any professional sound system.  And it has a little band behind the ear so it doesn’t fall off!

  • Panelists. Each panelist should have an individual microphone; however, budget or logistics may make it necessary to share. When sharing a microphone, a wireless handheld is preferable. If sitting at a table, a table microphone is acceptable.

I used to prefer the panelists to have a lavaliere microphone, but after watching this storm brewing, I think everyone should have a headset microphone, budget willing.  If you don’t have that many headsets, I suggest all the panelists use a cordless handheld.

  • Audience. If the moderator stays on the stage, you’ll need to have a “runner” (or two) with a wireless microphone in hand OR a wireless or corded microphone on a stand in strategic places throughout the audience.

Make sure you sweet talk the A/V tech ahead of time and not only do a sound check, but a sound level for yourself and each panelist.  Find out how the tech is going to adjust the sound levels.  My preference is to keep the microphones “hot” throughout the panel discussion and only mute a panelist if he starts coughing, wheezing or other audio burbles.

Finally, advise your panelists to speak with energy and sit forward on their chair!

For more resources on how to make panels better, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

Related Articles:

Panel Moderator Checklist for Meeting with Panelists Prior to Panel Discussions

Get Rid of the White, Draped Table at Panel Discussions!

In Search of the Perfect Chair for Panel Discussions

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.

Photo by Brett Sayles

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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