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good panel discussion questions

A recent reader asked me about scripting a panel discussion – and if I had a sample script for a panel discussion.

Although I typically don’t use a “script” which dictates what I will say word for word, sometimes it’s required.  For example, it may be required if I’m moderating a panel for a highly legislated topic or industry where the lawyers have to be involved every step of the way.  Or it’s a multi-lingual event where there is simultaneous translation happening while I am speaking.  Or it’s a “high stakes event” where the client is jittery and does not want ANYTHING left to chance.

I get it.  I’ll do it.  When time allows, I memorize the script or read it off a teleprompter or tablet.  But it’s not my favorite.

I typically speak from memory or from my bullet points – BUT, ironically enough – the bullet points are crafted AFTER I have scripted the session for the client!

You see, most of the panels I moderate are high stakes events and I want to give the client a high degree of comfort and confidence that the panel will be lively and informative.

So here is a sample “script” that I have “washed” to be rather generic along with [stage notes]:

Sample Script for a Panel Discussion


45 minutes prior – Panelists and Moderator Meet up in the Room

  • Go over the agenda/last minute questions (hand out agenda cards, if appropriate)
  • Know which chair you are going to sit in
  • Microphone and a/v check
  • Two microphone runners – familiar with microphone on/off switch. I’ll be bouncing back and forth between the two of you – so get the person identified and ready.
  • Think conversation!!!!!

15 minutes prior – Everyone mingle with the audience as they come into the room.


0:00 1 minute video rolls about topic while panelists walk on stage and take a seat (in order of the Powerpoint slide).

0:02 Welcome and Share Purpose of the Panel and Objectives

  • Thank you for coming to this session.
  • We are ALL concerned about {topic}
  • In the absence of info, we tend to leap to the worst scenario, so we thought this session would help us all achieve clarity on what is known vs. what is speculation or even exaggeration.
  • This is an important topic that is affecting many of our businesses, so we are honored to create this panel to:
    • Share what we know as an industry
    • Answer the questions you have about {topic}
    • Give you some tools/talking points to share with your customers
  • As a professional panel moderator, I’ll be guiding us through this process.  We have a short period of time (only an hour) so we are going to break this into four distinct chunks:
    1. We want to know YOUR overall opinion on this topic – so we’ll start there.
    2. A few questions for our panelists. Thank you for providing your questions and concerns during registration.  We have sorted through them all – and we received over x pages of questions – and will be addressing as many as we can during this panel.
    3. And the rest will come from you – the audience – in an open mic Q&A
    4. Wrap up with a few tools you can use immediately

So let’s get right into it with our first question for the panelists AND our audience!

0:04  SEGMENT ONE – Newlywed Game/Introductions

“Would you please turn to your neighbor and share the first word that comes to mind when they think about [the topic].”

  • Panelists write one word down on a foam board a la the Newlywed Game…(PLEASE DO NOT SHARE YOUR WORD AHEAD OF TIME – and feel free to be a little creative!)  That one word should describe something you’ve learned in research about this audience. This will be the first way we introduce you to the audience; showing a bit about what you know from research.
  • Audience chats with each other for 15 seconds
  • Moderator solicits ‘shout-out’ words from audience. Moderator asks the panelists to reveal their “answers” at the same time.  “Panelists, On the count of three, let’s do the big reveal on your words…”
  • Panelists have energizing reactions to their words….
  • Moderator introduces Panelist A with name, title, two-sentence bio and asks to share “the word” and why he/she picked that word.  Panelist A takes no more than one minute to answer. We then go to Panelist B, Panelist C, Panelist D, and Panelist E.

0:12   SEGMENT TWO – Moderator-Curated Questions

Again, thank you for contributing your questions and concerns during registration.  I have taken the most often-cited questions and will be posing them to our panelists.  [Questions curated for each panelist and build off of each other].

  • Question for Panelist A –
  • Question for Panelist B –  (different than above and tailored to Panelist B)
  • Question for Panelist C –

Expand questioning

  • Show visual e.g. video, graph, chart, picture etc. or take a poll of the audience
  • Question for Panelist C – with follow-up question 1 and/or 2
  • Question for Panelist B – with follow-up question 1 and/or 2
  • Question for Panelist C – with follow-up question 1 and/or 2

0:25   SEGMENT THREE – Agree/Disagree Game

I have an idea…Let’s play a game… AGREE/DISAGREE.  Each of our panelists has an AGREE/DISAGREE paddle.  I’m going to make a statement that may be provocative for the purpose of discussion … and then each of our panelists can agree or disagree.   Let’s start by testing the paddles to make sure they work. First statement — 

>> This panel is, hands down, no holds barred, the very BEST panel with the best looking panelists you’ve ever seen… in the entire universe.  [panelists hold up paddles…chuckle….]

>>  Controversial question #1.  [panelists hold up paddles…discuss….]   Anyone care to explain why they agreed (disagreed)?

>>  Controversial question #2.  [panelists hold up paddles…discuss….] Anyone care to explain why they agreed (or disagreed)?

>>  Controversial question #3.  [panelists hold up paddles…discuss….] Anyone care to explain why they agreed (or disagreed)?

0:32    SEGMENT FOUR – Audience Q&A

  • Let’s go to the audience for your questions. We want to address as many questions as we can, so we have two microphone runners to help us with this.  Please raise your hand to indicate your interest and [name] or [name] will find you.  We’ll also be taking questions from our virtual audience.   I ask for you to state your question FIRST, and then give us one or two sentences to help us understand the context.  If you would like a specific panelist to answer the question, please mention the panelist name first, then the question, then context.  Sound good?  We’ll also be taking questions from the webinar audience – so don’t be shy!  I’ll be asking [Name/our ombudsman] for some questions from you too!
  • Moderator to call on an audience member – if microphone runner is not standing by, then runner RUNS to that person! Panelist answers concisely.
  • Hard stop at 0:40

0:40    SEGMENT FIVE – Closing and Summary

  • We’re getting close to the end of our time together. If there is one thing you would like this audience to take away from this session, what would it be?  Each panelist answers with a different takeaway
    • Panelist A
    • Panelist B
    • Panelist C
  • Did you get some great ideas?  [Revisit with audience or summarize]
  • Thank you for coming…we really do appreciate your interest in this very important issue. You can ask further questions of the panelists right after the panel [location]
  • Housekeeping announcements e.g. next session starts….
  • Thanks again for coming!

Related Articles:

How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments

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

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF | Master, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a quest to make all panel discussions lively and informative. Check out her free 7 -part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Photo: Depositphotos.com

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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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