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panelist crisis

Emergencies happen during a panel discussion. A panelist crisis could occur mid-panel discussion! Some you can plan for and some you can’t. So I was curious about a recent comment I received on one of my YouTube Videos on how to moderate a panel:

I had an experience where one of the panelists asked me to cut short the question as she got some emergency, right on the stage. So i have to cut down my Q&A session which
I planned at the end of the panel. Well, I dont want to walk her out when all the other three are sitting to discuss the Q&A. We are never going to call her again.

It’s an interesting yet not unusual scenario. Panelists might know about their quick exit. They know they need to catch a plane, they are waiting on an important call, or may be feeling under the weather. There are other crises where they need to leave unexpectedly. They may feel suddenly ill or get a text about a dire emergency.

If you have prior notice about a panelist needing to make an exit, you can seat the person closest to the door so they can make a quick getaway. Sometimes they just leave (awkward!) or most of the time, they inform and/or apologize to the panelists and audience of their need to depart early and leave. In both instances, I say, “Carry on.” Even though you are missing that panelist’s brilliance, the show must go on.

When the panelist has an emergency right on the stage that no one could have prepared for, you have to acknowledge it as the other panelists and audience will be wondering what it’s all about.

The moderator is in complete control of the agenda and has two potential paths moving forward:

  1. Modify the program
  2. Continue with the program

In the above YouTube comment scenario, we don’t know what the emergency was, but the panelist asked the moderator to cut short the questions. The moderator complied because she “didn’t want to walk her out while the other three are sitting to discuss the Q&A.” (I’m not sure why the moderator had to escort the panelist out, but I’m sure there was a reason). My guess is that it also had something to do with the fact that the panelist asked for the program to be cut short. And, as a gracious host, she complied.

But here’s the deal. It is the moderator’s role to ensure the panel discussion objectives are met. Did the Q&A need to happen? They had three other panelists sitting there! I see that there are several other potential choices:

  1. Ask the panelists which path they would like to choose going forward.
  2. Ask the audience which path they would like to choose going forward.
  3. Have the audience members talk among themselves about what questions they want to ask the remaining panelists while you escort the panelists out of the building.
  4. Have the panelists start the Q&A segment without a moderator while you escort the panelist out of the building.
  5. Appoint/ask for a panelist to facilitate the Q&A session.
  6. If possible, ask one of your trusted friends to escort the panelist out of the building.

I’m sure I am missing some other options, but the point is to think through your various options and do what is best for the audience when faced with a panelist crisis.

Related Articles

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Everything Panel Moderators Should Discuss With Their Meeting Organizer

For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative 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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