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A key skill of any panel moderator is to inspire conversation between the panelists. After the initial remarks (either through an initial presentation or first “hot potato question“), listen for areas of agreement or disagreement to inspire conversation.

When the panelists are in agreement – or not, summarize the common theme(s) and then decide a path forward:

Ask open-ended questions to get more information. Draw them out in a way that doesn’t imply either a correct answer or assume responsibility.

  • “What do you think about…?”
  • “How might we do this?”
  • “What are your ideas about…?”
  • “Would you please say some more about…?”
  • “Can you help us to understand your perspective?”
  • “How do you see that working?”

Build on what has been said to deepen or extend the thinking.

  • Connect/summarize the comments and then pose a question
  • “You mentioned…. could you say more about that?”

 Ask for clarification to gain a clearer understanding of what has been said.

  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “When you say…, how do you see that working?”

Check for understanding. Paraphrase or rephrase what was said and ask for agreement or correction.

  • “What I hear you saying is….”
  • “As I understand it….”
  • “Let me see if I understand what you are saying….”
  • “So you think (hope, feel, believe)….”

Test the unsaid. Sometimes, the real issue has not been spoken. If you sense there is something which hasn’t been said, test it out:

  • “I am wondering if you might be concerned about….”
  • “If we do this, are you concerned about…?”

Segue.  If you don’t like the tone of the conversation, shift the conversation by asking a new question.

Let it go! Use a little humor to diffuse the tension and shift focus to another area.

The challenge for any moderator is to choose the right path forward to instill an interesting and lively conversation.

For more resources on how to make panels 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.


Kristin Arnold MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP, is a professional meeting facilitator and panel moderator.  She is passionate about making meetings and panel discussions more engaging, interactive and collaborative. You can read more of her work in one of her books Team Basics, Email Basics, Team Energizers, or Boring to Bravo.

Related Articles:

The Anatomy of a Powerful Panel

What Makes Your Panel Fascinating?

The Moderator’s Role in Panel Discussions






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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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