Bring Your Panel to Life: Moderating Like a Boss

Take a webcast to the next level by taking it live, and making it into an event that encourages the audience to participate and interact. With cloud-based technology, you don’t need to cough up budget-busting bucks, when there’s an app that can make your event into a talked-about and memorable experience. You do need some basic equipment, and there are some tips and tricks to make sure that the whole thing doesn’t descend into chaos.

Panel 101

Panel discussions can be lively and enjoyable experiences, or they can be a chaotic mess where the message and purpose is lost in the confusion. Setting up a panel discussion takes some rules and organization that will keep everything moving and allow for speakers to make their presentations, and for question and answer sessions afterward.

  1. The moderator introduces the topic and the panelists, then lays out the agenda.
  2. The panelists present their views for a set amount of time enforced by the moderator.
  3. The panelists then discuss the subject with each other, possibly with some guidance and direction by the moderator so that everyone is heard, and time limits are adhered to.
  4. The moderator closes the discussion and then summarizes the presentation and ensuing discussions.
  5. The moderator them opens the floor with a call to the attendees to present questions or voice their own views and opinions to the moderators.

This is where using a videoconferencing app like Blue Jeans can help with respect to broadcasting live streaming video and moderation tools that will make organizing and moderating a panel easy – even if not all of your panelists or attendees are on site.

Moderator Role and Duties

The moderator is the one who makes the whole panel discussion work. Think of the political talking head shows, and you’ll have a rough – if sensationalized – idea of what a panel looks like. A better example might be the panels held at conventions, with specialized areas of interest and panels of experts in those interests. The moderator’s work begins with setting the agenda and the topic under discussion, then assembling the panel, creating a schedule and agenda for the event, and then letting everyone who might be interested to know that there’s a panel on subject X, please register to attend.

Okay. Easy. But you are not done yet. That, actually, was the easy part.

You are now going to learn how to herd cats.

You have a live audience, a live panel, and you have to keep the whole thing on track against the inclinations of enthusiasts and experts who would keep the panel rolling into the wee small hours of the morning. The Harvard Business Review recommends getting in touch with your panelists, listing three questions you want to open the panel with, and asking what issues they think needs to be covered.

On the Day

If you can’t get a “dress rehearsal” for yourself and your panelists, you will need to do a sound check and make sure that your video conferencing equipment is working. This means that the sound needs to be synched, that the panelists and hear you, and that you can also hear the panelists. If possible, have the remote locations check in as well, so that you can be sure there are no problems on that end. Now the cat herding really kicks in, and you are going to need to take control, but at the same time let the discussion develop naturally.

And…You are Live!

Just as with any other media, you have to get the attention of your audience right away – or they’ll simply fire up their tablet or phone and start playing browser games or knocking items off their Netflix queue. Your opening should not be more than a few lines, and in addition the Houston Chronicle advises that should be followed by introducing the panel members. After that, the discussion can be opened by addressing specific questions to individuals, or to the panel as a whole.

Stick to the agenda, and don’t be afraid to nudge a panelist to stop hogging the allotted time, or wandering off on a tangent. You may even find it necessary to cut someone off entirely, which is unfortunate but does happen. After a brief summary of the subject and discussion, open the floor to the attendees, and encourage them to participate by asking questions and sharing their own experiences. The attendees will take some moderating, as well, so you may want to make clear that questions submitted in advance – perhaps by instant messaging – will receive preference when it comes to the post panel discussion. Finally, do not forget to thank your panelists for their time before closing the panel. With practice, you’ll get better at the moderation game.


  1. Great comments, Justin! Yes, it IS just like herding cats, so the planning is extra important. These days, the Maxwell structure is set up more like a traditional panel. Who wants to hear opening remarks which is really just a mini-presentation? Why not give each of the panelists “speaker time” and then move into the panel DISCUSSION where the panelists are giving and taking their viewpoints – something the audience can’t get on youtube?

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