Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #86 with Scott Kirsner: The Biggest Fear in Moderating a Panel

Professional Panel Moderator Kristin Arnold asks Boston Globe Columnist and Professional Panel Moderator, Scott Kirsner, who also wrote the highly rated Harvard Business Review article on How to Moderate a Panel Like a Pro, to share his ideas on what to do when the panelists are already well-known by the audience during a panel discussion at meetings, conferences, and conventions.

Kristin: What’s your biggest fear when it comes to panel presentation or panel discussions?

Scott: I think the biggest fear is still you know the panel where you have fewer people in the audience then you have onstage, you know and it has just been under promoted or you’re you know like Barack Obama is speaking in the other ballroom and everyone went to go see him instead of your panel.

I don’t know, I definitely have been the victim of like some bad logistic things just where like whatever you’re stuck in the ball room that is like seven levels underground and the main conference is somewhere else and you know. So I think that’s the biggest fear is just that you’re in a room and you have like great panelists and you’re ready to go and there is just is no energy in the room you know. Because of that feeling of like “Well there are five panelists on stage, there are three people in the audience and two of them work for companies of the people on stage and are there.” You know out of a sense of obligation and it’s like well. I’ve definitely done some panels like that.

Yeah I think it had one time we had so few people in the audience that I just said you know, “What if we turn this into a round table discussion?” You know we were in kind of a tent at this film festival and it was like people were all at the movies, they didn’t want to see a panel discussion but there was this panel discussion scheduled and so it’s like there were five panelists on one side of the table and there were like six or seven audience members. And so it was like, “Why don’t you guys pull up your seats around the table and we’ll just have a round table conversation about this topic.”

And I think it sort of turned something that would have felt really negative into something that was like, “Oh wow like I’m actually going to be a part of this now.” As opposed to like looking around at this empty room and wondering like “would it be rude if I left?”


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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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