Where does a panel moderator get the actual questions to ask the panel? According to my colleague and Founder of Extreme Meetings, Brian Walter, he says, “There’s two overriding techniques that almost all panels use. One is, the moderator asks all of the questions, written and sanitized by HR and PR another two letter acronyms to make sure that there’s nothing edgy or interesting in it. You seem like you’re a shill for the company or the organization.
Hey! Maybe you ARE a shill for the company or organization!”
Or, you can get the questions from the audience. One technique (among many) is to use question cards.
Place 4″ x 6″ index cards on the tables or on each seat. My preference is to print at the top an interesting question that pertains to the panel, so that that people will instinctively know what to do with the card. Otherwise, they look at the blank card and wonder what to do with it! (BTW, 3″x 5″ cards are too small for people to write large and legibly!)
As people are wandering into the room, explain the purpose of the cards – that you will be picking them up and using them to steer the panel discussion.
After your introductory remarks, once again explain the purpose of the cards. Give them one more minute then ask them to pass the cards to the end of the aisle where your “runners” can collect the cards and give them to you.
If it is a small collection of cards, you can quickly sort through them. If it is a large pile, you might want to have one of the meeting organizers or a runner sort through the cards for you. Select the top five (or so) questions that appear most frequently.
You can ask each table to chat about their questions and select the BEST question to ask the panelists. Then go to each table and ask for the best question – and ask them to be additive, not repetitive! (If the question has already been asked or answered, go to your next best question!)
By using question cards, you can let the audience drive the questions during your panel discussion.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.