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If you can’t moderate a panel discussion well in the live, face-to-face world, you probably won’t do a great job in the virtual world.

And why is that?  Simply put, there are more things a moderator needs to pay attention to.

Here is a quick reference list of the nuances between the F2F and virtual world of moderating a panel discussion:

Unique Moderator Guidelines

  • Since a virtual panel is a much more visual medium, do not discount the importance of visual diversity among your panelists!
  • Keep an ongoing list (mental or physical) of who speaks and how long (short, medium, long). You’ll notice the gaps and to whom you need to direct your next question.
  • As the host, you also have the ability to mute, cancel video, or remove any or all of the participants, if need be.
  • Be firm. Have only ONE prepared slide deck that you or the technologist controls.
  • If giving a “prize”, show a visual representation of the prize and share how you will get it to them.
  • Use the ombudsman or technologist to help you mute and unmute the microphones, recognize the raising of hands, and rummaging through the chatbox for the best questions to ask.

Directions to the Panelists

  • Ask the panelists to keep their audio on and tell them the order in which you will be calling on them.
  • Most panelists use their built-in computer microphones. Encourage them to use a good, external microphone.
  • Do a dry run and make sure their video is able to be seen and heard by all. Remove clutter from the background.
  • If part of the program, provide direction as to the costume they should wear (style, color, etc.) or mail it to them!
  • If debating different positions, encourage each “side” to wear something (such as a specific color) that signifies their unity.
  • If showing a prop, make it can be seen by the audience – and whatever detail is important to see. Consider sharing the screen to show a picture of the prop.

Audience Q&A

  • Have a deliberate Q&A strategy: Encourage participants to ask their questions in the question box, text or tweet, raise their hand, use a crowdsourcing tool, put them into breakout groups, or have a plant in the audience.
  • Form a “queue” where you identify one person to start speaking and let the next person know they are “on deck.”


  • Your digital platform will have a polling feature that you can either frontload or create as an instant poll.
  • Use an external crowdsourcing app such as sli.do or the meeting app to take a poll.
  • Depending on the size of the group, you can get creative on different ways to take a poll. Ask participants to give a thumbs up or down; raise their hand, show a colored object, etc.
  • Do a “roll call” of panelists or participants.
  • Tell the audience that you are going to unmute the person whose name is called. Unmute that person!
  • Drive the pace by clarifying the directions and then calling on each panelist in rapid-fire succession.
  • Share a screen with the two or three questions bulleted as A, B, or C. To answer the poll, ask the audience to raise their hand, give a thumbs up, or write the answer in the chatbox.
  • Post a continuum on the screen and ask participants to annotate an arrow as to where they fall on the continuum.

Chatbox and Question Box

  • Have the audience type their comments into the chatbox.
  • Ask the audience to type the question, idea, or answer into the chatbox.
  • Use an external crowdsourcing app such as sli.do to show a word cloud as it forms
  • Make sure you save the questions and chatbox comments to reinforce key messages.

Breakout Rooms

  • Place the participants into smaller, predetermined, or randomly selected breakout rooms to discuss the topic and share their reactions/application of the information.
  • Be clear about what you want them to do when they come back e.g. have a spokesperson to debrief the top three ideas, submit your HOTTEST question into the question box (anonymously of course).

Platform Directions

  • To play music, connect your audio input from your computer to your platform.
  • Depending on the audience’s familiarity with the technology, you may want to give a quick tutorial on some of the basic features.
  • Do a dry run and make sure your video is able to be seen and heard by all.
  • Have the slides ready to be shared onscreen.
  • Keep the virtual meeting room open after the panel for further discussion/chatting. Offer to place the participants into breakout rooms for further discussion.


  • Email any supplies (agree/disagree paddle, 8”x12” piece of white cardstock, thick black marker, costume, etc.) to all panelists.
  • Email the “handouts” to the participants prior to the panel discussion.
  • Email the “takeaway” at the end of the panel discussion or shortly thereafter.
  • Mail an agree/disagree paddle or have them make their own.

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


For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. 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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