Panel discussions are a feature of many Conference and Convention agendas and it’s often the role of the MC to moderate or facilitate the discussion.
Here are some tips –
# Remember, “it’s not about you!” Your role is to encourage the free flowing discussion, but also keeping it on track and importantly on time.
# Make sure the panel knows what time you are going to finish and subtly bring this up at the 5 minute to go mark. I also let the audience know if appropriate.
# Do you really need to go into lengthy introductions? Time zooms by in most Panel discussions, why waste it in lengthy intros.
# A “holding slide” featuring the panel member and their role can work well. Then a slide of all the panel members.
# Get out from behind the Panel Table! A nice array of chairs or stools means closer connection between the panel members themselves and between them and their audience.
# Mix things up a bit. Why do Q & A at the end?
# Keep the audience involved. Poll them at certain points.
# Create “table discussions” and then get feedback from a few and then ask the panel to comment on that feedback. This process works well if the audience are shy in asking questions. They are usually happy to chat around a table.
# Get Context – If questions or comments are coming from the floor it’s nice to know who the person asking the question is and their role. This can provide context for the panel to answer more appropriately.
# Be prepared to be firm with the audience. If the conversation gets too heated or inappropriate, be prepared to step in and then move on. “I think we can agree to disagree on that.” “That is probably beyond the scope of our discussion today.” And follow with your own question.
# On the other hand, be prepared to step back when the conversation is lively and free flowing.
# Wrapping Up. It’s nice to get a quick comment from each panel member right near the end. Perhaps – Big Challenge for the next year? Action Steps for the audience members, Key Points etc
# Being comfortable with running sessions in this format is a skill. It’s also a good selling point. You add value to the event by being able to run these sessions, so make sure you mention it in your promotional material as a benefit of booking you.