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Walk into the audience Oprah-style!

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 Q&A session, a powerful panel moderator will:

Describe the Process.  Share the process you will use to solicit questions.  Then follow the process.  Don’t deviate for anybody.

Review the Ground RulesFor example, “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.   Repeat, restate or summarize the question for the entire audience to hear and for it to be picked up on any recordings being made.  Reframe tangential questions to be more on topic.

Prompt a Panelist.  When the question is for anyone on the panel, restate the question and then direct the question to a panelist who:

  • Is signaling to you
  • You feel would best answer it
  • Has not responded as much

Hot Potato the Question.  If a panelist is not being asked questions by the audience, you can say, “John, that was a great answer.  Mary, do you feel the same way?”

Queue.  If a large number of people raise their hands at the start of the Q&A session, start with the first person who raised a hand and establish a “queue” or lineup that lets the audience know who will go next.

  • Follow the Queue. Once you establish the order, doggedly follow it. If you have a hard time remembering the order, write it down or enlist someone to help you keep track.
  • Add to the Queue. While a panelist is answering a question, you may see someone new raising their hand. You can point to the person and nod, signaling that the person will be next in the queue.
  • Call on the Questioner. Call on them by name if you know them or can read their nametags. Otherwise, use some defining, flattering feature: “The lovely lady in the bright red jacket, please give us your question in one sentence.”

Work the Room.  Make sure that the questions are spread among different members within the audience.  Try to hear from everyone who has a question before you return to someone for a second turn.  You can even offer that you are looking for new faces to chime in before you let a repeat questioner back in the queue.

Prevent Speeches.  You and your microphone runners should NEVER let go of the microphone.

Last Two Questions.  Warn the audience when the session is drawing to a close and that you have time for one or two more questions. Take the last few questions and then move to the next segment on your agenda, typically, the ending activities.

When a panel moderator lays out the process and follows the ground rules, the Q&A will be the highlight of the panel discussion!


For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets 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.

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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

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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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