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A seasoned panel moderator was asked, “Is it necessary to use humor in a panel discussion?” The moderator responded, “Not unless you want people to listen.”

Except for the guy whose car you just rear-ended, everyone likes to laugh. When you make your audience laugh, they feel more connected not only to you but also to each other. Research has shown that we like to be around people who have a sense of humor. It’s a human quality that breaks down tension and resistance and enhances communication and relationships. Plus, it makes the panel more fun.

Now, I am a person who has never considered herself to be funny. Humorists and comedians are funny. My brother is funny. Some of my friends are funny. But funny is not a quality I would use first to describe me.

Truth be told, some people find me witty, which brings a soft chortle, a gleam in the eye, and a smile to the lips. And I sometimes get a few chuckles from observational humor and stories that come from my own life experiences. I’m just not a laugh-every-six-minutes kind of facilitator.

But I have found ways of strategically using humor that can help even the most humor challenged among us.  Stop trying to be funny and, instead, find ways to engage your audiences with a variety of humor that involves them. Before you know it, you may even be described as funny—in a good way.

Here are a few tips to make humor work for you as you moderate a panel discussion:

MAKE IT NATURAL. Take the time to understand and appreciate your own style of humor. Stay true to yourself, and don’t try to imitate anyone else—and that includes Joan Rivers!

BE RELEVANT. Make sure your humor supports the topic. There is nothing worse than irrelevant humor that distracts from the panel discussion.

BE APPROPRIATE. Use humor that is appropriate for your audience, is suitable for the occasion and is not offensive. While comedians often push the envelope with humor, a panel moderator and panelist humor should engage, not irritate, the audience.

ALIGN THE AMOUNT OF HUMOR WITH THE TOPIC. If the topic is funny, then you will be expected to use a lot of humor. Otherwise, you need to spread your humor throughout so that it balances the serious material. After a panel, you never want to hear, “That was funny, but where’s the beef?”

GO WITH YOUR HUMOR STRENGTHS. If you can do foreign accents or funny dialogue, then characters might be your humorous strong suit. Be careful that you do not offend some group of people. If you have a knack for telling funny stories, then weave away. Though variety is good, you should focus on your strengths.

SELF-DEPRECATE. You are not only the best target for humor but your humor is unlike anyone else’s. By creating your own stories and using self-deprecating humor, you create a style of humor that will make you unique. Plus, it connects with audiences because it shows that you’re not above laughing at yourself and thus are not above them. A little crack in the armor brings you down to earth and makes you more approachable to your audience.

Related Articles:

How to Moderate a Virtual Panel Discussion

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

How to Structure a Panel Discussion

For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. 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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