Many years ago, I was on an hour-long panel moderated by a close friend. It was her first time moderating a panel about a topic she was clearly and definitively vested in. She asked four well-known colleagues and she was thrilled that we all said “yes!”
I gave her a bit of coaching on how to moderate a panel, but had absolutely no idea that she would spend the first 30 minutes on the intro (how excited that we were talking about this topic) and to introduce the panelists (her relationship with each of us and why she so admired us, blah, blah, blah).
Those first thirty minutes were a train wreck. Not so bad once we got into the substance of the panel, and obviously, we ran out of time for audience Q&A.
I typically find that the panel moderator doesn’t bring enough energy to the table, although in this case, she brought too much energy to the panel!
One of the moderator’s roles is to be the “energizer:” to model the desired level of energy and enthusiasm for the panelists and the rest of the room. The panel moderator works the room, engages the audience, and injects a little humor where appropriate to keep it lively.
Although her heart was in the right place, her level of energy was over the top. She was so passionate about her relationship to the topic and her friends, that it got in the way of being effective.
So what is effective? The key here is in the word “model.” The panel moderator models the behaviors that he wants to see in the panelists and the audience. I believe the best moderators bring energy and enthusiasm about the topic and make it about the audience, not about them. Opening comments and introductions should be short and simple. The moderator should be interested and engaged in the discussion, and ask probing questions.
The key is for the panel moderator to bring just the right level of energy to the panel discussion. Not too much, not too little. Just the right amount of energy!