Panel Moderators: What to Do When Your Panelists Hate Each Other

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I’ve talked about the importance of picking “DEEP” panelists – Diverse, Experienced, Eloquent, and Prepared.  But what happens if those panelists don’t get along?

I was talking to a meeting professional who confessed, “I pick panelists who hate each other!”

That could be a problem for you and the panel moderator, and quite lively and interesting for the audience!

Do Your Research.  Once you find out they truly “hate each other” – dig a little deeper on this as part of your research.  Is it a personality conflict?  Some kind of historical bad blood between them?  Or could it be professional differences of opinion?  From your research, discern what will help and what will hinder your panel discussion.  For example, you can easily leverage differences of opinions during the discussion – and probably want to stay away from bad blood issues!

Play with the Format.  If you know that the panelists disagree, why not create a debate-style format where the panelists can disagree with each other in a more formal, yet non-threatening way?
The audience will love the cross-fire type of format!

Watch the Dynamic.  Watch the behaviors and dynamics of the panelists during the pre-event call (if you have one) and in your final meet-up before you go on stage.  I have seen panelists who venomously dislike each other put on a game face and play nice.  And I have also seen panelists who bring out their fangs on stage.  You just never know.  So watch the dynamic closely so you are not caught completely off-guard.

Sit Apart.  Consider having the panelists in assigned seats – as far apart from each other as possible.  You don’t need to fan the fires by putting them next to each other!

Establish Ground Rules.  I always give my panelists a few “ground rules” to keep in mind: Keep it conversational, all participate…no one dominate, and be additive not repetitive.  If I know there is some bad blood between panelists, I’ll add, “Let’s generate light around the issue and not heat.”  And if you are really worried, you may want to be even more direct: “Let’s put our differences aside, and let’s have an amazing conversation with each other on behalf of the audience.”

Don’t Be Surprised.  Come prepared to intervene if the blood starts to boil!  Have some quick sentence starters to shift the conversation:

  • That’s an interesting point. Let’s see what our other panelists have to say.
  • Wow!  There’s a lot of passion around this topic.  Let’s see what questions the audience has about this topic.
  • So it sounds like there is a fundamental disagreement on this topic.  Is there another perspective/course of action we haven’t considered?

Put an End to It.  If things get completely out of hand (I haven’t seen that happen often, but it has been known to happen), call it. State what you specifically notice about the situation and request to stop that discussion thread.  Then start a new discussion.  For example: “We don’t need to shout and talk over each other.  Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of passion and conflicting views about this topic.  How about we agree to disagree on this point and move on?”

It is not unheard of for panelists to hate each other – so be prepared to handle the situation with grace and aplomb when it does happen during a panel discussion!

For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets better, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

Related Articles:

10 Ways Panel Moderators Can Manage Time Effectively During a Panel Discussion

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

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats

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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