Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #241 with Susan Morris: How to Come Up with Panelist Questions

How do you come up with the questions to ask the panelists 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 do you come up with the questions to ask the panelists?

Susan: I’ll write down everything I know about a topic that feels within that sphere, and then I’ll kind of narrow it down to what areas I think bothered me or were tricky to me when I was first starting. And also, like, what can I do to address the whole scope of it? And I end up writing like 25 to 30 questions. These are first draft questions. Some of them do not stick. And then, I ask people that I know, both beginning writers, like what their questions would be in the space, like what they think the panel’s about. Like if they went to that panel, what would they want or expect to hear? 

And then I ask my writing group, which is experienced writers, about what they would expect the panel to be and what they would want to know. Because I think you need a mix, because some of these people have been coming to panels for years, and they’ve heard all the basic stuff, and then some of the people are coming for the first time, and you can’t leave out those people. So you definitely need to have the ability for depth without excluding anyone. And so, then I really do a rough draft, basically. I talk to them after I figure out what they think it’s about, I have them suggest questions, I go over my questions to see if any of them hit or don’t hit. 

So we basically have a conversation, a fake panel, a dry run. And that really helps us figure out… First of all, it’s fun, it’s so fun. Because it’s all the pleasures of talking about the subject that you have on a panel, except without any of the pressures of doing it in front of everyone. And then it also allows you to see when something just hits with a thud. And like, it can be a fascinating topic. I might have picked that question because there was a fascinating article that was well-loved that really discussed it or something. But if it takes too much thought beforehand, if it doesn’t create discussion, if it’s one of those things where everyone’s like, “Yep, that’s the way it works,” or something, then it’s not a good question.

Yeah, you don’t want things that stop discussion, you want things that start discussion, and that really helps you figure out what those are. You also don’t want things that feel like a quiz, right? Because it can be really tempting if you know a lot about the space to basically use your questions to make sure that they answer all the details you want answered, but that’s not right either. You’re not a teacher, you’re helping them share their knowledge. 

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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