A colleague asked an interesting question this week: “Why should I moderate a panel – What are good reasons to be a panel moderator?”
Good question. The stakes are high: You are responsible for creating an amazing experience and valuable takeaways for both the audience and the panelists. There are significant benefits and advantages to say “yes” to the invitation to moderate a panel discussion.
Mike Periu wrote an excellent post that captured five reasons to be a panel moderator. I was inspired and created my own list.
1) Stand Out. “Few people have the chutzpah to stand in front of an audience of industry peers and orchestrate a meaningful discussion among experts. The sheer act of taking this responsibility on will help you build a name for yourself in the industry [and/or company].”
2) Meet Influencers. “In order to run an effective panel discussion, you need to find excellent panel candidates. You may have to go through a long list of people to find those who are able to do it, available to do it and willing to do it. In the process, you could easily contact 10 or 15 industry heavy weights. They’ll take your call because you aren’t asking them to buy anything.”
3) Get Smart. “It forces you to get up to speed on important industry issues. As a business owner, you constantly struggle between dealing with macro issues and micro issues. Usually the micro issues, like calling a customer who hasn’t paid an invoice, win out, it provides an excuse for a point of contact. After you moderate the panel, you can reach out to them again. If you are moderating a panel, then you need to know the key trends that impact your industry and the particular issue being discussed. You have no choice but to dedicate time to it.”
4) Reach New Customers. “It gives you a great reason to reach out to new and potential customers when you invite people to attend the panel discussion to let them know how it went and summarize the key points discussed. These are two valid and interesting reasons to communicate with your audience.”
5) Credibility/Prestige. “There’s just something about being up on stage that sends the message that you are someone with whom to do business. Most people are terrified of being on a panel, not to mention moderating one.”
But wait! I found four more reasons (sorry, Mike!).
6) Show Expertise. Denise Graveline says, “As a featured performer on the panel, moderators will miss out on this bonus if they simply stick to reading the panelists’ names and asking ‘any questions’ at the end. Instead, smart panel moderators insert a comment here and there to sum up the sense of the panel, add a choice piece of data to illustrate what two panelists just touched on, and ask blunt questions that get to the heart of the matter. Smarter moderators introduce a theme and ask unusual questions. Don’t waste this opportunity!” (Kristin’s note: beware of sharing too much expertise – otherwise, you might as well offer to be the panelist!)
7) Appreciation. Barry Eisler says, “If you do a terrific job as moderator by bringing out the best in the panelists, the audience will appreciate you. They’ll remember your name and buy your books. Being a moderator is actually a great sales opportunity – but only if you do it right” [in service of the audience].
8) Awareness. Mark Suster says, “People at the conference become aware of who you are…..it serves as a great conversation piece to meet people the rest of the conference. People will say, “Oh, I saw you moderate that [great panel discussion]. It’s a free icebreaker at the rest of the conference!”
9) Stepping Stone. Okay, so this one comes from me: Moderating a panel discussion helps a speaker get ready for bigger speaking opportunities.
Obviously, there is a HUGE upside to saying “yes.” When you do a great job, you can come out looking like a star. Truth be told, this is partially because there are so many bad moderators out there, people walk in to a panel discussion with fairly low expectations. So imagine their surprise when they see a skilled moderator keep the conversation focused and lively!
Even so, there is an equally HUGE downside to saying “yes” if you are not willing to put the work into it.
So do us all a favor: Evaluate these reasons to be a panel moderator and only say “yes” when you see a worthwhile upside and are willing to put the work into making your panel discussion simply amazing!