How to Facilitate a Meaningful Audience Q&A Session During a Panel Discussion

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Facilitate a Meaningful Audience Q&A

At some point during a panel discussion, the panel moderator will turn to the audience and ask for questions.  Most folks call this “Audience Q&A” where the moderator takes questions from the audience via text, question card, open microphone, or Oprah-style, depending on the event.

To facilitate a meaningful audience Q&A session, a powerful panel moderator will:

  • Describe the Process.  The moderator will share the process they will use to solicit questions e.g. text, question card, open microphone, use of microphone runners, or wander into the audience.
  • Review the Ground Rules.  The moderator will share any specifics about how they want the Q&A session to run.  For example, a moderator may say, “Please stand, state your name and organization, the name of the panelist you are directing the question to, your one-sentence question and a few sentences to clarify your question if necessary…and panelists, please speak to the audience when answering all the questions.  Now, what questions do you have?”
  • Repeat the Question.   The moderator may repeat, restate or summarize the question for the entire audience to hear and for it to be picked up on any recordings being made.  They may also reframe tangential questions to be more on-topic.
  • Prompt a Panelist.  When the question is for anyone on the panel, the moderator may restate the question and then direct the question to a panelist who:
    • Is signaling to the moderator that they want to answer the question e.g. lean forward, raise your hand subtly, or whatever you agreed to in the pre-meeting/they feel would best answer the question.
    • Has not responded as much as the others.
  • Take the Next Question.  If a large number of people raise their hands at the start of the Q&A session, the moderator may start with the first person who raised a hand and establish a “queue” or lineup that lets the audience know who will go next.
  • Last Two Questions.  The moderator typically will warn the audience when the session is drawing to a close and that they have time for one or two more questions.

When a panel moderator lays out the process and follows their ground rules, the panelists will be able to answer the questions comfortably and confidently and the Q&A will be the highlight of the panel discussion!

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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.

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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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