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Panel Moderator Chip Bell shared a unique format he has used at Harley Davidson, Victoria’s Secret and other companies.  He calls it ‘Layered Group Listening’ and it works with no more than fifty or so people in a room:

Start with a panel with five or six customers seated in a circle.  Outside that circle, create a second circle with the people who serve that customer or people like them.  Create an outer third circle with the leaders and managers of the organization.

Moderate a conversation with the customers in the first circle.  The second circle can ask questions of the first circle for clarification.  The people on the outer circle can’t say anything – which is really hard. When we did this for Harley Davidson, the people on the outside ring got fined a hundred bucks if they opened their mouths because leaders always want to say something!

You can also give the people in the outer circle the opportunity to send the moderator a card to “Ask them this,” so they could interject their questions as well.

Then, the customers leave and the front line people in the second circle move to the center circle where the customers were.  The leaders and managers in the outer ring move in to the second (middle) circle.

Moderate a second panel discussion with the front line people reacting to what they heard.  The leaders in the second circle can only ask questions for clarification.

The moderator can finish the session with a problem solving discussion to summarize what was said and what the organization is going to do about it.

When we did this final session with Victoria’s Secret, they brought the customers back to participate in the problem solving with everybody in the room.  But that all depends on what kind of “dirty linen” got aired in the process!  Sometimes you bring the customers back, and sometimes you don’t. Depends on the organization and what they want.

The fact that you’re trying to listen through layers brings awareness and learning to the organization. And sometimes you would have front line people who say, “I don’t want my boss hearing about something I might have done, or someone like me.” But that’s what I used to think. But what we get instead is, “Thank goodness they were in here and got to hear the same thing I’ve been complaining about or fussing about or struggling with. And they got to hear it first hand from the customer. And then they involve me in problem solving and how we deal with it.”

Thanks, Chip for sharing this cool format for moderating a panel discussion!


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


For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.



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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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