The moderator of a panel I attended made a rookie mistake that created a disaster of a presentation, hurt the creditability of the panel members and I would guess their feelings. After the moderator introduced the panel and the panelists had a chance to say a few words, the moderator made the fatal error of saying, “Are there any questions from the audience?”
What’s wrong with asking that question? The audience’s questions were all over the map. Many of them did not pertain to the expertise of the panel members. I stopped counting how many times the panel members looked at each other to see who was going to attempt to answer another question coming out of left field.
The fatal mistake the moderator made was, he did not frame the question. The question should have been, “What questions do you have on _____ topic.” Narrowing the types of questions that are appropriate to ask allows panelists to shine. It also keeps the panel on time and on topic.
A critical job of a moderator is to keep the questions on topic. A polite way to keep things on topic is to say, “That question sounds a little off topic. Would you like to rephrase the question?” or “Can we table that question for later? If we have time at the end we can try to answer your question,” or “You can ask one of the panelists after the formal portion, let’s try to stay on topic until everyone gets a chance to ask questions.”
Using these techniques allows the experts on the panel to sound like the expert in their field that they truly are. It also allows the portion of the audience that came to be informed on the topic to get what they came for. Be specific to stay in control.
Now. Are there any questions on the topic of moderating a panel discussion?