The Guide to Moderating Virtual Panel Discussions

In the era of remote work and digital communication, virtual panel discussions have become a staple in our daily routines. Whether it's a LiveWebinar meeting, a client presentation, or a casual catch-up with colleagues, the effectiveness of your communication can significantly impact the quality of your panel discussion. One crucial aspect that often gets overlooked is the role of the moderator. Proper moderation can enhance your panel discussion, making it more engaging and ensuring that all voices are heard. This article will guide you through the best practices for moderating virtual panel discussions, drawing insights from expert sources and product recommendations.

The Importance of Good Moderation

Good moderation is not just about directing the conversation; it's about facilitating effective communication. When you're well-prepared and able to guide the discussion effectively, you're able to ensure that all perspectives are heard and that the conversation remains focused and engaging. Whether you're a high-profile presenter or a professional working from home, your moderation skills can significantly impact the effectiveness of your panel discussion.

Preparing for the Panel Discussion

The first step to moderating a successful panel discussion is preparation. Research the topic, the panelists, and the audience beforehand. Consult with the meeting chair and planner to understand the event format and how much latitude you have to be creative. Familiarize yourself with the platform you will be using. Don’t just “hop on” to whatever platform your meeting organizer has scheduled. Learn the platform capabilities—like chat box or polling features—and decide if you want to use them.

Selecting the Right Panelists

Selecting the right panelists is crucial. If panelists have not yet been selected, look for individuals who are diverse, have expertise in the topic, are eloquent, and are prepared. They should be good conversationalists and willing to make a few key points and tell stories that illustrate those points.

Crafting Great Questions

Get the conversation started quickly with well-prepared questions. Start with broad questions to set the tone for the discussion, then move to stating the reasons the audience should care, and then ask specific questions to spur the panelists to share anecdotes, concrete examples, and implementation ideas. Be willing to let go of your planned questions when an interesting discussion emerges.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice on the platform with the panelists. Get comfortable with the technology and the functions you want to use. Make sure the audio and video work for all panelists—and that they all have enough bandwidth—during the dry run and 30 minutes before the panel starts.

Keep the Conversation Moving

Encourage each panelist to comment on particular parts of other panelists’ statements. You may need to interject a follow-up question here and there to keep the conversation moving at a brisk pace. Probe deeper, make bridges between ideas, present opposing views, catch contradictions, test the unsaid, shift gears, create transitions, and intervene firmly and respectfully to keep everyone on track.

Be Positive and End Strong

Always be uplifting. Bring positive energy to the virtual room. Compliment the audience and the panelists. Make it personal by using the panelists’ first names and saying the name of the person who submitted the question. Let the audience know the program is coming to an end by saying, “We’re almost out of time. There are a few key things to wrap up.” Then, summarize the discussion and offer opportunities to extend the discussion beyond the session.

Have a Backup Plan

Consider what could go wrong and try to prevent it from happening. Have all the panelists log on 30 minutes prior to the start time of the panel to check

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