While there are many (at least 9!) reasons to say “yes” to the invitation to moderate, there are an equal number of reasons to say “no” to an offer to moderate a panel discussion.
Reasons to Say “No” to an Offer to Moderate a Panel Discussion
Not Enough Time. Some meeting organizers think you can just show up and moderate a panel. Au contraire! If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll realize that the more you prepare, the easier it is to moderate a panel. After all, when the panel is AWESOME, it looks effortless. But when the panel goes south, the panel moderator is left holding the mess. So what’s the cause of the short notice? Did the other moderator cancel or become ill? The organizers didn’t plan ahead? There’s something weird about the topic, the panelists, or the location? If you don’t get enough time to prepare (whatever that means to you), think carefully before saying “yes.”
Too Much Structure. Some panel formats are extremely controlled or fairly formulaic with not a lot of wiggle room to leverage your own personality and stagecraft. If you’re comfortable with the prescribed parameters, go for it. But if you aren’t comfortable at the starting gate, you might as well not join the race.
Too Many People. The optimum number of people on the panel is 3-4 with a maximum of 5. More than that, it’s just too many to have a meaningful discussion. See if you can downsize the number of panelists, but you’re starting at a known deficit even before you get to the starting gate!
CloudyPromise. When you see a difference between the meeting organizers’ objectives and the marketing materials’ “promise” as to what the audience can expect to experience when they attend the panel, you’ve got a real problem on your hands. If you can’t resolve the discrepancy, think twice about moderating this panel!
Tokenism. You might be offered to moderate a panel as the token woman on a manel (an all-male panel). (I call this pinkwashing your panel!) The reverse can be true: You’re the only male on a all-female panel. Denise Graveline suggests you “ask to see the entire roster of speakers and moderators to be sure you’re not just window dressing for a conference with gender imbalance.” Depending on the circumstances and your comfort level with the imbalance, you may want to say “no” to an offer to moderate a panel discussion.
High Maintenance. Some meeting organizers need more hand-holding than others, yet a few are just too, too much! It might be their first panel discussion and they lean heavily on you….to do everything – including their job! Or if the logistics, location, topic, promise, length, panelists etc. keep changing, that’s a lot to keep up with. If you think it may be too much work to feel good about the overall experience (and you might not know until you are knee-deep into it!), you may want to say “no” to that offer!
Tight Travel Schedule. Especially in these post-Covid days when flights are being delayed left and right, make sure your travel plans allow for you to arrive well rested and in plenty of time.
Not a Stepping Stone. One of the reasons you may want to say “yes” to the offer is that it will position you or your company and help you get ready for bigger speaking opportunities. But if it’s not positioning you in a favorable light or you’re always being asked to moderate, but never to speak, you may want to say “no.”
Doesn’t Feel Right. Lastly, sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like a good fit. Your intuition is telling you “no, take a pass.” I have learned the hard way to listen to my spidey-sense when it comes to saying “no” to an offer to moderate a panel discussion!
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.
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.