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Inclusive Language on Your Panel Discussion

As the panel moderator, it’s your job to address the audience. Do you step out onto the stage, give the audience a warm smile, and enthusiastically greet the audience by saying, “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen!”?

No. Please don’t do that last part. Step onto the stage, smile, and say something that includes ALL the participants in the audience.

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In this day and age, you may be alienating a part of your audience. Why do that? There ARE other ways to address your audience AND use more inclusive language!

We say, “Let’s go, guys. You can do it!” or “Do you know a guy who can do that?”

Last time I checked, I’m a gal; not a guy. Given my military background, I’m not offended when someone uses the term “guys” and I’ve been known to use the term every once in a while. I always considered “guys” to be gender-neutral.

But it isn’t.

You might be thinking, what’s the big deal?

Part of it is the fact that you want to be inclusive – and not all people identify as a guy or a gal. But it goes deeper than that – especially in male-dominated environments. When you say, “Do we have a guy who can speak to that on the panel?” – the visual image that comes to mind is a man. So your brain will go in that direction before you consider other options. Which is why there are so many manels still going on.

Emily Nichols, a colleague who specializes in Human Skills for Technical People, highlighted the importance of choosing your words carefully in her recent TEDx talk

She says, “Changing our language can indeed change our world. My enthusiasm for less-gendered language reflects my desire for a less-gendered world. One where we aren’t held to feminine beauty standards every day, and don’t have to be ‘one of the guys’ to be seen, heard, and valued in the world of work.”

There are so many other (and more effective) terms you can use that are much more inclusive! Nichols suggests “You just drop it. Don’t say ‘guys’ – just leave it out!”

Nichols adds that “other terms are more inclusive – ‘team members, colleagues, awesome people, beautiful humans’ – or just plain old ‘everyone.’ Your choice probably depends on the situation (Email? Presentation? Team huddle?) and your personality.”

Professional EmCee Timothy Hyde shares several of his favorites for a group of people: “Colleagues,” “Associates,” and “My friends.” If you are looking for a phrase that has a harmonious cadence to it, try “One and all,” “Students and scholars,” “Family and friends,” or “You delightful people.”

Of course, there are plenty more. Just find the one or two that feel right for you and your audience!

Related Articles

How to Create an Inclusive Environment During a Panel Discussion

10 Common Mistakes Panel Moderators Make

How to Moderate a Panel


For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative 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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