Moderating a Panel: Tips from Derek Andersen

In 2010, when we started holding events for Startup Grind, the formats were often roundtable discussions. As the events grew, became better attended, and word got out, we began to invite experts to talk about their experiences at our events. Since the earliest days of Startup Grind to the big stage at SaaStr Annual 2019 where I moderated a panel in front of 1000 people, I’ve moderated quite a few panels (to say the least). Here are four of my tips for how to moderate a dynamite panel:

1. Come prepared

Research your panelists

Know who you’re interviewing. Whether it’s a panel or a one on one interview, you need to have done a bit of research about the individual(s) in order to ask them thoughtful and relevant questions. If you ask the wrong kinds of questions, it probably won’t make your interviewee look bad, it’s you who’s going to look unprepared.

Research your topic

Think about the goal of the panel or interview. Why this topic? What does this topic mean to you, the interviewee(s), and your audience? Think about what you want people to walk away from this event with and prepare questions that will draw the kinds of answers you want

2. Keep things quick

This is a very important tip when moderating a panel with more than one speaker. There are few things worse than a slow-moving panel or interview (except for an unprepared moderator), so it’s important to keep things moving quickly. Before the panel interview begins, tell your speakers that you are going to move fast, that you want fast answers, and there is no room for lollygagging!

3. Stay on your toes

Third tip, and probably my favorite, is to keep a notebook up there with you! Have your questions at hand, right in front of you, and as people answer questions and expand on ideas, write down quotes and notes that you can refer back to later. Don’t be afraid to deter from your prepped questions, and be ready to come up with relevant questions on the fly. Being a moderator isn’t just about asking questions, it’s also about listening and being able to think on your toes.

4. End when it’s time to end

Keep an eye on the clock, of course, but feel the room and read your panelists. Don’t go too long, don’t end too soon. End when it feels good to end. It’s better to end early than to force something to continue when the audience and your panelists are ready for it to be done. The right time to end a panel interview is when the panelists feel like they have shared some wisdom, and when the audience feels like they want more! When you end at the right time, you can use the momentum to ensure people know about social media, or post-event activities, so they can continue the conversation.

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