How to Play Referee as a Panel Moderator: When the Hot Topic Gets Too Hot

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Pictured above is my friend and panel referee “Alan ‘the Whistle’” Orloff, totally failing to keep me under control. This picture is from the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” panel of sports mystery authors.

There are times when the topic is so divisive that the panel moderator must become a referee!

So don your referee shirt, and be ready to step in to “mediate” a lively discussion:

Stay Focused.  Be clear about what the topic is and how the conversation should be focused.  Ultimately, the conversation should be had on behalf of the audience, and not the panelists themselves.

Design a Debate-Style Format.  Create a format that will engage the panelists in a constructive way.  Try using a talk show format such as the Cross-fire format.

Check Assumptions.  Many heated discussions are based on some key assumptions the panelists are making.  Probe further to unearth key assumptions that are driving the conversation.

Clarify Key Points.  Sometimes, the key points get lost in the discussion.  Paraphrase a panelist’s key point and then turn to another panelist and ask for him to comment on that key point and then add his contribution.

Interrupt the Interrupter.  Often times, a panelist will try to talk over another panelist.  Don’t let that happen.  Put your hand up to stop the interrupter and ask the panelist to complete her thought.

Direct Traffic.  In order to keep the conversation balanced, you may have to manage the conversation (vs. have it emerge organically).

Redirect.  At key moments, you can redirect the attention from the stage and give it to the audience.  Ask them to nudge their neighbor and chat about the key point.  Solicit opinions from the audience.  Ask for clarifying questions from the audience.

As the referee, you had to decide how lively and heated you are willing to let the conversation go…and then intervene appropriately.

For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets better, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

Related Articles:

10 Ways Panel Moderators Can Manage Time Effectively During a Panel Discussion

How to Coach a Panelist with a Large Ego for a Panel Discussion

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high-stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.

Photo thanks to Sasscer Hill

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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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