How Panel Moderators Can Ace the Art of Follow-up Questions

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As a panel moderator, there is a distinct art to asking follow-up questions during a panel discussion – those questions you ask to probe further into a specific aspect of the conversation.  The key is to listen intently to what each panelist is saying, and where appropriate, decide how to dig deeper into the topic:

  • Advance the Conversation:
    • Play Back a Key Word or Phrase: If a panelist says, “I found the results to be quite disturbing” you can follow up by saying, “What was so disturbing?”
    • Advance the Plot: When a panelist tells part of a story, encourage them to continue. For example, if a panelist shares a story about the struggle they faced in executing their strategy, you could ask them to continue: “Once you started to see some traction, what happened next?”
    • Reflect It.  Let’s say one of the panelists has a strong opinion.  Ask another panelist if he or she shares that same opinion.  If not, then ask the panelist to share a differing viewpoint.
    • Share Information.  If you, as a panel moderator, have some information to advance the conversation, share it quickly and concisely combined with a specific question directed to one of the panelists.
  • Focus the Conversation:
    • Clarify the Point.  When a panelist is too vague, ask for further information to clarify or expand the point.  Clarifying questions typically start with a “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” or a “why.”
    • Pull Out of the Weeds: If a panelist is being too specific, ask them to share the larger significance of their point or how it connects to the big picture.
    • Pull Out of the Clouds: If a panelist is being too abstract, push them for specifics. Ask for examples, case studies, or anecdotes that illustrate the larger point.
    • Check for Understanding.  Perhaps the panelist is a bit obtuse and you are not sure the audience understands the point.  Paraphrase the panelist’s comment and ask, “Let me see if I’ve got this right….”
  • Synthesize the Conversation:
    • Test the Unsaid.  Sometimes, the real issue has not been spoken. If you sense there is something that hasn’t been said, test it out: “If we do this, are you concerned about…?“  Or “I am wondering if you might be concerned about….”
    • Test for Agreement. Check for the apparent agreement (or disagreement) with others by asking, “How do you feel about what Mike said?” or “How many of you agree with this?”
    • Connect the Dots.  Take pieces of information shared by the panelists and tie them together: “Sally, you mentioned x, and Rashid said y, does that mean we have z?”

Thanks to Brad Phillips for sparking and sharing some of these ideas on how to ask a follow-up question during a panel discussion.  What are your best practices to dig a little deeper?

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For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series or our other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Photo: Depositphotos.com

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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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