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when a panelist cannot answer your question

Unfortunately, this scenario can happen to a panel moderator: You ask a probing or challenging question to a panelist and …. they got nothin’. They stare at you like a deer in the headlights.

What do you do when a panelist cannot answer your question? Actually, you have several options:

  • Be Patient. You may be misreading the panelist. Perhaps they are thinking about your carefully crafted question. Wait a few seconds until they answer.
  • Reframe. Change the question to be a little less challenging/probing.
  • Help. Provide a springboard to get them started such as “I have heard others say…”
  • Reflect. Ask the same question to another panelist (especially if it looks like they have something they want to say!).
  • Redirect. Ask the question to the audience.
  • Poll. Take a poll of the audience
  • Shift. Move on to your next question. While this could be awkward, you could say, “Let’s come back to this one” (which you may or may not do….)

Obviously, you don’t want your panelist to feel bad or look bad, so handle this “deer in the headlights” moment tactfully!

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

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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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