7 insider tips for a first-time panel moderator (that will make you look like a pro)

7 Insider Tips For A First-Time Panel Moderator

7 insider tips for a first-time panel moderator (that will make you look like a pro)


She was asked to moderate a panel, in exchange for a free ticket to the conference

💬 Three thoughts came to mind:

  • 👉🏽It’s great exposure for her and her business (she’s raising a fund)
  • 👉🏽She’s never moderated a panel before (yikes!)
  • 👉🏽She needed help and called me.


I’ve moderated hundreds of panels. 

  • 👩🏻 Both as a journalist on the trading floor.
  • 💪🏼 And as an entrepreneur.


When I think back to the best panels I moderated, the following 3 things happened:

1. A panelist really went there and got vulnerable. They talked about the time they failed spectacularly and was curled up in a ball in a closet, crying. They could. Their current day raging success spoke for itself. That story doesn’t take anything from them. In fact it endeared them to me and the audience more.

2. Panelists were authentically themselves. 

3. Panelists were smart and had high value things to say or great stories to tell. 


When I think back to the crappiest panelists

1. They needed a lot of reining in because they tended to go off on their soapbox or agenda. It was losing the promise of the panel.

2. They gave one word answers. Like seriously?

3. They were politicians, giving the answer they were supposed to give, rather than add value.



I shared some of my best practices each time I moderate a panel

🔵 Step 1 Ask the organizer to introduce you

Even before I commit to moderating a panel, I ask if I will have access to pre- interview each of the panelists one on one. 

Why this is important: You want to know the personality types you are dealing with. 

  • Is he/she a talker and needs reigning in? 
  • Or is it pulling blood from a stone?

You want to pre-interview the panelists to establish talking points. 

Eliminate the redundancies.


🔵 Step 2 Pull out top points from each

I transcribe each interview using Otter.ai, and pull out the top 3 points from each pre-interview and drop it into a Google sheet. 

From there, I start to batch points and questions together to tell a cogent story for the audience’s benefit.


🔵 Step 3 I share the flow with the panel

My panelists have always appreciated the transparency I provide ahead of event day. 

I create a one pager with the names of each panelist, a short descriptor of each person’s company, date, location, timeline and my question flow.


🔵 Step 4 Be conversational

This is where your pre-interview pre-work kicks in. I hate generic questions. You have the benefit of knowing MORE because of your pre interview, and you can infuse that specificity into the question as you tee up each panelist.

Why is this important? You are talking to humans. Give the audience an opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” of a really interesting dinner party in your home. 


🔵 Step 5 Recap points for the audience

Don’t be afraid to recap points from the panelists for the benefit of the audience. 

Why is this important? Not everyone catches really great points the first time around.


🔵 Step 6 Share index cards for questions

A way to maximize the number of questions answered, and minimize audience questions that aren’t really questions to begin with, do this: ask the audience to write their questions on index cards. Assign someone to collect them and pass them up to you. You as the moderator read them to the panelists.

Why is this important? This cuts down on redundant questions, because the moderator (you) can flip through the cards quickly and identify that. Not audience member knows how to ask short concise questions. We have all been in the room with people rambling on for 10 minutes. Sorry, did you have a question in there?


That’s it. She went in and killed it, moderating her first panel, after deploying these tips. 

Want my cheatsheet I made for her? Download here

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Am I worried AI will replace me as coach? No.

My high level clients who are giving branded talks, TEDtalks, get tripped up on this point: 

Organizing their material for impact.

Imagine going to see a comedian, and there was no lead up to the punchline. IN fact, all the lines were out of order. The whole experience would suck, because a joke is not as funny, when the parts are told out of order. There needs to be a ‘tee-up’ and then the final line has to ‘land.’

That level of organization still needs a human.

For now.

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