Panelists – Don’t Forget to Keep the Audience In Mind

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keep the audience in mind

It annoys me when panelists solely talk to the panel moderator and their fellow panelists – and never address the audience. After all, it is the audience that is benefitting from the panel’s wisdom! Why not engage with the audience directly?


You may not be the panel moderator, but you still can involve the audience in small ways:

·       Prepare for the Panel with the audience in mind. What questions do they want answered? What key ideas do you want to convey to them?

·       Use Stories and Examples for each key idea, especially if the concept will be new or unfamiliar to the audience.

·       Use Inclusive Language. Include the audience by saying “you” while looking directly into the audience.

·       Shout out.  Perhaps there is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the room who deserves a mention from the stage.

·       Direct your Answers to the Audience, not to the moderator.

·       Avoid Jargon, acronyms, or institutional language. Just because you know what it means doesn’t mean they will! Choose words and terms the audience will understand – or when you do, pause and provide a parenthetical definition of the term and continue your story.

·       Take an Informal Poll especially if you don’t know the cast of characters in the room or want to gauge the level of interest.

·       Call on a Person in the audience to answer a question, comment on what has been said, or even to ask you a question!  For example, you can call on a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the room who is not on the panel but may be able to offer a different opinion on the subject.

·       Pose a Statement and ask the audience if it is true or false (fact or fiction) or if they agree/disagree.

·       Verbal Response.  Preachers do this all the time:  If you believe you are going to heaven, say, “Amen!” and the audience shouts “Amen!”  You could also tell the audience to say, “Hallelujah,” exclaim “Oh yeah!” or shout out “Uh-huh!”  If confidentiality is important, ask for those to agree to hum.  You’ll find those who are passionate will hum loudly!  Or you can ask the audience to say, “Oh no,” shout out “No way,” or even “Boo” if they don’t agree.

·       Do Something.  You can ask them to “Applaud if you like vanilla ice cream” or stand up if you are committed to making ice cream available all summer long.

·       Fill in the Blank.  Ask the audience to complete a sentence or shout out an answer.   For example, if the topic is about “disruption,” ask the audience to shout out their definition of “disruption.”

·       Nudge Your Neighbor. Ask a provocative question and ask the audience to talk about it for a minute with their neighbor(s). People will automatically gravitate to groups of two or three (doesn’t matter how many!).

·       Enjoy Q&A. Some panelists dread Q&A – fearing bad questions or being put on the spot. You can prepare for these potentially pesky moments by checking out my upcoming book, The Powerful Panelist publishing this Spring. It also helps if you approach Q&A as an opportunity to learn from the audience as well!

Just keep in mind that the volume of the response can also show the strength of the audience’s interest level and/or commitment.  This is, of course, handy information to have at the start of your panel or to poll periodically during your panel discussion.

Related Articles

30 Ways to Engage Your Audience During a Virtual Panel Discussion

Is the Panel Discussion All About the Audience?

Panel Moderation Technique: The Audience as the Fourth Panelist

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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