How to Select Diverse People to Ask a Question During a Panel Discussion

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As a leading expert on moderating panels, I am often asked to watch a panel discussion and provide the organization and/or moderator feedback – what went well and what they could upgrade for the next time.

Recently, I watched a panel discussion that had a robust Q&A session.  After a few questions, it became obvious that the moderator was selecting men – and caucasian men only – even though others were raising their hands to ask a question.

Which got me thinking about the subconscious biases we have – and how they creep into something as simple as selecting a person to ask a question during Q&A!

How to Select Diverse People to Ask a Question During Q&A

First, be aware of your own tendency to pick men, women, certain ethnicities, races, or even sides of the room.  For the most part, we tend to pick people similar to us, so just be aware of this simple subconscious bias.

Most people just call on the first hand that goes up, or the closest person to them.  And while that might be easy, it certainly isn’t deliberate nor intentional.  I suggest you develop a “system” to select a wide range of people within the audience.

I find it helpful to note the visible demographics in the audience and try to replicate at least the same ratios:

  • Gender.  Yes, the visible gender lines are blurring, but I think you get the point that you don’t want to keep calling on the same gender.  I try to start with one gender (preferably a woman) and go back and forth (man, woman, man, woman etc.)
  • Age.  At this point in my life, I am a lousy age estimater, but the idea is that you get a good cross-section of Boomers, Gen X/Y,  and Millenials.
  • Ethnicity/race.  Your audience may be full of one race or a melting pot of diverse people.  Make sure you call on those who come from an underrepresented population!
  • Population in the room.  For in-person panels, I divide the room into quadrants and make my way clockwise from one quadrant to another (or use Catchbox to throw the microphone to the questioner).  In the virtual world, you may or may not be able to see the participants, depending on the settings.  If you are able to see the participants, you may have several screens, so scroll through the screens.
  • Socio-economic levels.  This one is a bit trickier to discern visually – but sometimes it is obvious. For example, the “leadership” is in suits and the employees are in polos/working clothes.

Obviously, you want to balance all these variables.  Be thinking about whom you have heard from and whom you need to hear from.  Pay particular attention to those demographics that have not contributed a question – and do what you can to inspire a lively, informative, and diverse Q&A session during a panel discussion.

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

Related Articles:

How to Moderate a Virtual Panel Discussion

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions


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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