It has often been said that to learn a subject best, teach it. Everybody knows that. But the truth is that one step beyond teaching a subject is to moderate a panel on the subject. This list of points will help you to ensure that your audience will get the most from your panel, and you might gain a lot from it too.
Do your homework
It should go without saying, but bears repeating that you need to be prepared in order to be a good moderator. Not only should you know the subject your panel will be discussing, but you should also know your panelists as well. Be sure that you understand the parallels of the panelists’ backgrounds as well as what you expect them to talk about.
Know your audience
Even more important than knowing your panelists, is to know your audience. The audience should always dictate the content of the discussion. If you don’t know something about your audience, check with the coordinator for background information.
Set the questions around the objective
If you are going to have a panel, there should be a point to it. Unfortunately, many panels never quite arrive at that point. This often indicates a lack of focus on the part of the moderator and his ability to lead the panel on arriving at the objective. A moderator should plan his questions so that they are a mix that brings out longer as well as shorter answers, so there are a variety and not one long and drawn-out answer after another.
Prepare the panelists
Before the panelists arrive, they should be briefed on as much of what will go on during the discussion as possible. Many moderators believe that the panelists should even know the questions that will be asked. Regardless, they should know at the least what will be expected of them. You should let them know how long you envision their responses to be as well as how you plan to police bad panelists.
Be the moderator
If you are going to serve as a moderator, do it. This is another point that should be self-evident but is not often carried out in reality. Many moderators succeed in starting the panel’s discussion, then “wing it,” allowing the chips to fall where they may. This is a serious mistake, and often one that results in a panel discussion that not only fails to arrive at the objective of the group, but often fails to arrive anywhere. A mistake that many moderators make is to stick so strictly with a script that they fail to listen to what they panelists are saying and leave opportunities to elaborate on what they are discussing. Watching for trends in the discussion often will create wonderful opportunities to add perspective.
Make sure there is a Q & A
Moderators should always make sure that there is adequate time for questions and answers at the end of a panel discussion. This is not always possible, so when it is not, there should be time remaining so that audience members will be able to speak with individual panelists at the end.
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