You can’t run a panel like a “G” if you still think it’s about sitting or standing miles away from your audience and barely acknowledging that at least a few 100 people or so are in the room (sitting on chairs that are hard-as-hell). As a moderator, it can be hard out here in these streets.
Panels aren’t going anywhere, though. They are necessary evils. They are as essential to conferences and networking events, as you are to the world (wink). And. If you’re the moderator, you can either be a superhero, save everyone from a mundane, overly analytical and animated powerpoint presentation. Or. You can be the villain and cause everyone to wish you were… well. Dead.
By the age of 27, I’ve moderated or presented at over hundreds of panels and conferences like NY Forum (Africa) with the likes of Barack Obama’s sister, Akon, and Dikembe Mutombo.
During the Women: Inspiration & Enterprise (WIE) Africa Symposium– prior to the World Economic Forum Africa, I moderated and curated my company Adiree Communications & PR (Adiree PR) ‘s panel: Style and Strategy: Positioning Africa Globally through Public Relations and Communications. The panel took place at 2:35 PM WAT, at the Intercontinental Hotel, Kofo Abayomi Street – Plot 52, Victoria Island, 100001. It was massive.
Another panel called, Branding, Communicating & Expanding Africa’s Brand Potential Globally was co-hosted by my company Adirée PR, in partnership with Wharton (during their Africa forum)
I’ve made some mistakes, had major wins, and best of all… I have learned quite a lot about what it takes to run a successful panel.
Here are a dozen guidelines to put you on the right track when you’re tapped to run a panel.
Get the audience involved (immediately)
Moderators should always remember that there are others in the room. Open the conversation with a question posed to the audience or allow a few audience members to tell their story. Icebreakers are good as well (but stay in control, and ensure the panel stays on track with time).
I’m not suggesting you become Chris Rock overnight. However, everyone has something interesting and funny to share. You may also, share an awkward story that allows people to reflect (or laugh). Be free. Showcase your electrifying wit using puns or metaphors that people can relate to, or create a brief icebreaker that allows everyone to loosen up.
So you heard crickets, after telling a joke. So what. Make fun of the moment and move on.
Recover by asking anyone if they’re hearing crickets in the room etc. Nevertheless. Breathe. Take your time and move forward.
Don’t prep panelists
You’re not running for office nor is it choir rehearsals. I’ve seen many conference organizers hold lengthy conference calls, and write crazy long emails discussing what each speaker wants to cover. It’s best if you can avoid this. Better yet, just try getting to know your speakers, relaxing with them, enjoying their natural brilliance before the panel. Refrain from speaking about the panel, and watch the natural flow of the panel.
Research your panelists
Just because I said don’t prep with your panelists, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prep. By prepping, I mean do your research on each panelist. Gather key points about them. If you have to ask the organizers (not the panelists), to send you a cohesive information sheet about each panelist.
Don’t be a panelist
If you’re going to moderate a panel, this is the only job required of you. You cannot be a panelist at the same time (hog). Do not start adding your dialogue or (worse) arguing with the panelists.
Don’t allow panelists to bring slides to the panel
This will surely bring death to your panel instantly. It sucks time out of the panel and can throw your entire panel schedule off. If panelists are visual artists,
Introduce your panelists on your panel
Seems simple? Yes, it’s the moderator’s job to introduce panelists to the audience, however, if there is a lack of pre-prep work, you may be tempted to ask panelists to introduce themselves. Be brief, at least 3 bullets of important information related to each panelist.
Ask different panelists questions each time
Don’t make it a habit and ask each panelist the same question, over and over again.
Feel free to ask questions that are related, or spice things up and ask each panelist random questions.
Start high level, then specifics, and always include the audience
While you’re planning how to moderate and divide your time, slice the panel into three parts. The first, ask questions that allow panelists to discuss their careers and who they are at a high level. For the second part, ask specific questions that extract specific stories or examples in their experiences. Lastly, as remember to include the audience. If you ask panelists to share stories of themselves, ask audience members to do so as well. Even better! If you have a venture capitalist on a panel and you entrepreneurs in the audience, ask them to pitch their business idea.
Wrap up the panel on time and succinctly
The most beautiful way to finish up a panel is by recapping (or getting one last question from the audience) and as important, finishing on time. Make sure you set your cell phone on vibrate to remind you when time has approached its end. Be captivating, fast pace and incorporate some elements of surprise.
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