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Davos Economic Summit Panel Discussion

The World Economic Forum at Davos is considered to be the gold standard when it comes to panel discussions. So it was surprising to hear about this rookie mistake at the Davos Economic Summit panel discussion where the panel moderator called the female panelists by their first names and the male panelists by their official titles.


The moderator was Fareed Zakaria, the host of GPS on CNN and the topic was on “the global impact of the War in the Ukraine.”

The panelists – in the order they were introduced – were:

Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence from the United States (addressed as “Avril Haines”)

Yullia Svyrydenko, Ukrainian Minister of the Economy (not addressed by name but invited to comment by Director Haines as “my Ukrainian colleague, Prime Minister, and others will have a better sense of this…”).

Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland (addressed as “President Duda”)

(Then there is an awkward moment when Zakaria rhetorically asks, “There are two deputy prime ministers. I hope you don’t mind, Chrystia, if I call you Chrystia. How would you respond to this question…”).

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada (addressed as “Chrystia” who responded to his question rather than challenge his blatantly biased conjecture).

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO (addressed as “Mr. General” – which is too weird to be true!)

The next question was directed at the Director of National Intelligence of the United States (who, BTW, is NOT a prime minister, but he used her first name anyway): “Avril, you are President Biden’s most senior representative here at Davos, what would be your message…” Oh gosh. In a follow-up comment, Director Haines mentioned her colleague from Canada as the “Deputy Prime Minister of Canada said it right…” At least Director Haines addressed her colleagues with due deference and respect!

Even after the opening questions to each panelist, Zakaria kept calling the women by their first names and the men by their titles:

The next question: “President Duda….”

Then a question directed to “Yullia, can I ask you to give us a sense of…”

“Chrystia, you’re a money person…”

“Avril, let me pick up on that [something Prime Minister Freeland said]…

“Secretary General, can you give us an update…”

Joan Michelson, reporting for Forbes said, “He clearly knew what he was doing, even at one point trying to make an excuse for it, by saying there were two deputy ministers on the panel and he needed to use her first name. Unacceptable. Disrespectful. He could have called her Deputy Prime Minister FreelandZakaria of all people should know better.”

This is so sad to report. I can’t even believe it is true, and you can watch the recording here.

BTW, just take a look at the panel screenshot – all the men are on one side closest to the moderator and the women were on the other side of the stage – farther away from the moderator. Interesting, don’t you think?

Even more interesting is that NONE of the women’s first names were included in the C-Span close captioning or transcript. Do you think Zakaria’s faux pas was edited out?

As a panel moderator, it is a best practice to use people’s names. Everybody likes to hear their name AND it’s a great cue for a panelist to know that a question is directed at them. But for goodness sakes, either call ALL the panelists by their first names or ALL the panelists by their official titles!

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

Photo source: Screenshot by 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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