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, deciding 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 the 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 which 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?

Related Articles:

Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #108 with Joe Calloway: What to Do With a Panelist Who Won’t Shut Up

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

“Turn the Tables” in a Debate-Style Panel Discussion Format

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.


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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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