Challenges faced by moderators of panels

A previous post offers 13 techniques to improve your performance if you moderate a panel (See my post of May 22, 2009: moderator methodology.). As I kept thinking about the topic, images popped into my head of moderator headaches. So, here are some bad situations to try to avoid.

Imbalance of rank on the panel. The lower-ranking people tend to remain quite. The best solution is to speak beforehand to the high-ranking person and ask easy questions of the lower-ranking members.

Too many panelists. The best way to cure this is to avoid it, but if you have 45 minutes and five people on the panel, designate a single point each speaker should make, impress on them the limited time they have, and if you have to, embarrass yourself and the speaker by interrupting.

Rambling statements by someone in the audience. You can try gentle humor: “And your question is?” or say something gracious like “Thanks for the comment, we’ll take another question.”

A loquacious panelist or one who hogs the questions. One way is to intercept. Repeat the question and say, “Perhaps Jim [a quiet panelist] would care to start us off with a response?”

Too little time. I find that often panels start late, speakers lack discipline and they usually squeeze out any time for the audience at the end. I try to remind the audience and the panel periodically how much time remains.

Platitudes. Pith to one listener is the pits to another, I have to remind myself. You can’t expect everyone to speak at the same level of specificity or conform to your sense of what is valuable to the audience. Still, I cringe at grandiose pontificating.

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