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You’ve been asked to moderate a panel and you know those first few moments that start a panel discussion will make or break the success of the session. Typically, you’ll kick it off with welcoming comments, an overview of the process and your role, as well as panelist introductions.  You do this in order to connect the audience with the topic and the panelists – so the audience understands what’s being proposed, who the panelists are, and why they should listen to them.

4 Parts to the Start of a Panel Discussion

Welcoming Comments.  Start with a friendly, warm hello and then lead into the topic with a short, interesting fact, statistic, quotation, anecdote, or poll.  Set the table by quickly giving an overview of why this topic is important now and what you hope to accomplish.

Process. Provide a high-level review of the process as well as any ground rules. Encourage the attendees to submit their questions as you go, periodically or at a dedicated time.  

Your Role. If you haven’t already been introduced, briefly state your name, a relevant factoid that contributes to your credibility, and then clarify your role as the moderator.  If you are also contributing content as a fellow panelist, say so at the onset.

Panelist Introductions.  Introductions should be brief, informative, professional, and warm with a similar length and style so the group can immediately launch into a powerful discussion.

That being said, there is a great debate in the moderator community about who should introduce the panelists. While there is no “right way,” you should be aware of the pros and cons of each option:

  • Moderator Introduces. You are able to focus on the essential tidbits of information the audience needs to know to engage quickly in the conversation. An added benefit is that it allows you to control the clock.  At least in the first five minutes, you won’t already be behind schedule!
    If you are introducing the panelists, create a two-sentence bio for each panelist that quickly establishes why that person is uniquely qualified to be there. You may want to include an interesting comment on the position he is taking, why she is so passionate about the topic, or why he was selected to be on the panel.
  • Panelist Introduces. It allows each panelist to loosen up and connect with the crowd. It allows each panelist to have a guaranteed amount of airtime. Unfortunately, it also allows the panelists to set the tone for the panel. They could be boring and go over time; then you are already in the hole before the discussion even starts!
  • No One Introduces! If you believe that everyone on the panel is already well-known to the audience, consider skipping the introductions. Put up a summary slide and get down to business!

Because these starting comments are so important to the success of your panel discussion, I suggest you write out your talking points and/or script your welcome and introductions. Practice them so you are comfortable enough with the content and won’t have to read it word for word.

Related Articles:

How to Organize a Panel Discussion

How and When to Manage Audience Q&A

Panel Moderator Checklist: Meeting with Panelists Prior to Panel Discussions

The Anatomy of a Powerful Panel Discussion


For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series or our other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

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Kristin Arnold

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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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