Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #284​ with Susan Morris: Should the Moderator Contribute Content?

How do you make sure each panelist gets a fair amount of time to answer the questions during a panel discussion at meetings, conferences, and conventions?  Professional Panel Moderator Kristin Arnold asked this question of Susan Morris, a fantasy author, editor and absurdly frequent panel moderator at GenCon.

Video Transcript

Kristin: Susan, how involved should the moderator be in terms of contributing content to the panel discussion?

Susan: I think one of the most important things, and kind of the keystone of where I think I’m different than some of the moderators currently working in the field, is that I really don’t believe that moderators should participate, in terms of answering the questions themselves. 

And the reason is that I think it creates… I mean, it’s hard, because I think that moderators so frequently know so much about the space, and they’ve researched it to death ahead of time, and half the panelists haven’t, right? They know it intrinsically but they haven’t necessarily thought through their opinions.

And it can be really hard, in a short period of time, to, on the spot, answer a question if you haven’t thought about it recently. So it can be very tempting, when you’re asking six million questions, trying to get them to cover the space, and they’re just not covering huge swathes to answer yourself. 

But, I really feel that upsets the power imbalance, which you set up in the beginning, and that beginning power imbalance…the power balance that you set up is all that you are gonna be impartial, you are going to be the leader of the discussion, you’re gonna keep it moving, you’re gonna make the panelists look good, and you’re gonna make sure that the audience gets what they need. And if you take that time to…if you take that responsibility and you start using it in order to put forth your own views, then you’re no longer impartial. The panelists and the audience all defer to you because you’ve made that deal. 

And then you’re using it to kind of like push your own views, it gives them more weight. You have so much weight as a leader, even if you’re not actually putting forth your own opinions. It’s super easy to accidentally dominate, and so I think it’s way better to try and highlight the panelists and not participate yourself.

Looking for More?

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a crusade to make all panel discussions informative, interactive, and interesting.   Specifically, she wants to help YOU become a better panel moderator.  Why?  Because 95% of annual meetings have panel discussions – and according to the 2014 Panel Report, it’s a fifty-fifty proposition they are any good at all!  Expectations decrease dramatically when your attendees walk in and see the traditional draped head-table with microphones on short stands.  There are sooooo many other ways to have a stimulating conversation!  So let’s increase the probability of success for your next panel discussion with these resources.

And, you can always go back to the playlist for more Powerful Panel Discussion Tips!

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