Interview: How to Become an Excellent Panel Moderator

Martin Broz

Gemma Milne is a tech and science journalist who hosts her own podcast show called Science Disrupt. Also, she often collaborates with events and conferences as a facilitator. We met her at Tech Retail Week 2017 in London where she quickly caught our attention thanks to the excellent and engaging panel discussions she hosted.

With her rich experience as a moderator, she says a panel should make its audience think and plant new seeds in the listeners’ minds. This way, events can inspire people and give them a ‘how-to’ so when they go back to work the next morning, they have something to act upon. 

In this short interview, we’d love to share Gemma’s insights with you and help you prepare your moderators for your next panel discussion.

What should be the key priorities of a panel moderator?

“As a moderator, I’m the audience’s proxy and the voice of the curious one.” opened Gemma.

There is no point in having a panel if it doesn’t answer the questions participants have so I always concentrate on three key things:

  • Put yourself in the participants’ shoes. Act on behalf of the audience and ask questions that you assume a lot of people are thinking about but don’t want to ask them.
  • Act as a translator. Ensure that the message the panelist is trying to get across is completely clear to the audience.
  • Be constantly present. Listen to the panelists and think about what the next thing should be as the panel is a changing process.

You’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion. How do you usually prepare?

The research is key and therefore, I focus on two areas: panelists and topics.

Firstly, I try to understand the angle each panelist is going to take so researching their LinkedIn profiles, the company they work for or their activities gives me a solid background.

Secondly, there’s a story behind every topic so I always look into what is currently happening on the news. People can have various views on the topic, so the aim is to find different opinions and make the discussion interesting.

Finally, I schedule a short phone call with each of the panelists to get their viewpoint on the topic in advance so I can work with it later.

What techniques do you use to make the panel interactive and engaging?

It’s very important to give the audience the context. I always introduce the speakers as well as the topic at the very beginning.

I let the audience know right at the start that we will get to the questions very quickly to make them part of the conversation. The participants feel welcome and empowered as I recognise that their voice matters.

Using Slido allows me to incorporate the questions into the discussion as soon as the first one appears live on the screen. It gives me the sense of the direction people would like the conversation to go.

The sooner I take the first question from Slido, the more questions I receive. As a result, people feel engaged and encouraged so they keep sending more and upvoting them, which is very helpful for me.

How do you manage to keep track of everything?

To keep the stress under control, I came up with little tactics that I’d sum up as the following:

  • Write down the key points in the discussion as it helps you embed the information into your memory.
  • Use pen and paper to jot down the questions and notes easily during the talk.
  • Have your questions and notes in front of you so that you can glance at them in case you lose track of the conversation.
  • Genuinely listen to what people are saying and engage in the topic.

Would you like to learn more about moderation? Let us know your questions on Twitter @slidoapp.

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