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Simple Panel Discussion Warm Up
July 2, 2024
Overcome Writer's Block

I was recently asked about what to do when the moderator has “writers block” on what questions to ask during a panel discussion.

While I have blogged extensively about the types of questions and given examples for specific panel topics, (which is a great place to start to get the creative juices flowing), I thought I’d share some additional ideas about how to overcome writer’s block for panel questions:

1. Review the Panelists’ Backgrounds.

  • Research Each Panelist: Look into their professional background, recent work, publications, and any interviews they’ve given. This can help generate specific questions related to their expertise.
  • Identify Unique Angles: Find aspects of their work that are not commonly discussed, which can lead to fresh and engaging questions.
  • Ask the Panelists. Ask each panelist for the top 3-5 questions they think the audience will care about regarding the topic.

2. Focus on the Discussion Topic.

  • Break Down the Topic: Divide the main topic into subtopics or themes. This can help in creating focused questions.
  • Consider Current Events: Relate the topic to recent news, trends, or developments in the field to make the discussion more relevant and timely.

3. SWOT the 5 W’s & the H.

  • SWOT Analysis: Think in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to the discussion topic.
  • Who, What, When, Where, Why, How: These basic question starters can help in formulating comprehensive questions.

4. Seek Inspiration Elsewhere.

  • Look at Past Discussions: Review previous panel discussions on similar topics to see what questions were asked and how the conversation flowed.
  • Read Industry Blogs and Articles: These can provide insights and inspire questions that are currently relevant in the field.

5. Engage with the Audience.

  • Audience Input: If possible, gather questions from potential audience members beforehand. This can provide a diverse range of perspectives and interests.
  • Polls and Surveys: Use these tools to understand what the audience is most interested in learning about.

6. Brainstorm Freely.

  • Mind Mapping: Create a visual map of ideas and subtopics related to the panel discussion. This can help in seeing connections and forming questions.
  • Collaborate: Discuss with the panel organizer, producer, panelists, colleagues, or friends to brainstorm potential questions. Different perspectives can spark new ideas.

7. Take a Break.

  • Step Away: Sometimes taking a short break can help clear your mind and provide a fresh perspective.
  • Change the Environment: A new setting can often stimulate creativity.

My colleague, Bruce Turkel, an international speaker on branding, wisely advises us to “Just start writing. Nothing gets the juices flowing more than getting started. When I have nothing to write about, believe it or not, I write about having nothing to write about.” For panel moderators, just start writing down questions that come to mind. Don’t worry about getting it right (pun intended) or perfectly.

Turkel adds, “And by doing that, I often start writing something valuable without even realizing it. Remember that the craft of writing is not in the writing but in the rewriting. Your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. Just get your ideas down as quickly as possible.” 

By using these seven strategies, you can overcome writer’s block and create thoughtful, engaging questions for your panel discussion.

Related Articles

How to Structure 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.

Kristin Arnold



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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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