How Panel Moderators and Panelists Impress the Audience and Leave a Lasting Impression

panel moderator certificate
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I never know what to wear during a panel discussion. My general rule of thumb is to wear one cut above what the audience will be wearing. But somehow, I don’t think that’s enough.


So I asked my colleague, Sylvie di Giusto, a woman who knows what it takes to impress the audience and leave a lasting impression. After all, that is the primary focus of her speaking and consulting practice – and I think she actually pulls it off! Every time I see her, she is very impressive. And I’m not easily impressed!

Here are the main points of our chat that you can watch or listen to:

How Panel Moderators and Panelists Impress the Audience

You walk out on stage, you sit down, and without even saying a word, people think that they already know something about you! Unfortunately, very powerful sources are either working for you or against you – and those sources are called unconscious biases. There are around 185 different unconscious biases that can work against you. For example, let’s take the Confirmation Bias. People are looking for confirmation. If they see something sloppy in you, they’re going to find that sloppiness later in your behavior: how you sit on your chair, how you talk, the materials/handouts you provide.

To overcome these biases to make a great first and lasting impression, di Giusto encourages you to do your homework and prepare for these

Four different types of people you serve when you walk out onstage:

  1. Yourself. Confidence is your best designer. Do not wear, behave, nor communicate in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Twenty years ago, there were “rules” like you had to wear a suit to be perceived as professional. But don’t force yourself into a navy blue, charcoal gray pinstripe suit unless that is your preferred style! (To find out your style DNA, Di Giusto has a complimentary style assessment that’s quite informative!)
  2. Your Host. You not only represent yourself, but you also represent the person who invited you to be on the panel. Their reputation is also dependent on you. Find out what expectations your host may have, (e.g. appearance, behavior, or communication).
  3. The Audience. Dress in a way that your outfit becomes invisible. You don’t want to be known first and foremost for your outfit or for your hairstyle or your makeup. Rather, you want to be known for your excellence, your knowledge, the added value that you bring to the panel. So dress in a way that makes you feel confident and in concert with your style, but not to make it something people talk about.
  4. The A/V Team. Di Giusto says, “I show them right from the beginning that you understand that without them nothing, nothing’s gonna happen without them!” They have very practical information such as the type of microphone, where it will stand/clip on, what lights they are using, the backdrop color(s), how colors will appear to the audience (shiny? patterns? contrast colors?), how the audience will view you (on the same level, on a riser, amphitheater/top down?) In the round side views? She continues, “I try to make them feel that I care about them as much as they should care about me. It’s a give and take and the team will serve you much better and will have much more of an eye on what’s happening on the stage.”

Di Giusto emphasizes the importance to have a servant mindset: “You serve these four types of people to create a memorable experience on stage. You are not there because it’s about you and your knowledge. Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap that it’s about us, but it’s actually about the guests in the audience, you as a representation of the host entity, with the support of the AV team.”

How to Leave a Lasting Impression

Two more biases that affect how audiences will remember you are the primacy and recency bias: the first thing they remember and the last thing they remember. Most panel moderators will share the first question so you can shine with the first question. But they may or may not share the final question with you so you can end on a bang! So ask the panel moderator what the closing question will be and come prepared with at least three different answers – so you won’t be repetitive with your fellow panelists!

One final thing to consider: Your first impression may not happen on the stage as a panelist. You make it long before when the audience goes to the event website. What picture and bio will they see? Some might even search your name and check out our social media streams. You want to control the narrative so that you make good first impressions so make sure you submit worthy promotional materials and follow up to see what they posted on your behalf.

Thanks, Sylvie for sharing your words of wisdom!

Related Articles:

How to Prepare to Be a Brilliant Panelist

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

Top Ten Mistakes Panelists Make

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.

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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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