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.
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:
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.