Moderators are panelists that have been designated to provide structure for and lead panel discussions. Moderators can participate in the conversation if a panel has 5 or fewer panelists. If a panel has 6 people, the moderator should primarily act as a guide for the discussion. Good moderators have a plan, communicate it, and are able to gently guide the other participants back on course if they stray, and are not afraid to intervene more forcefully if necessary.
- 1. Pre-panel
Before the convention starts, the moderators should contact the other participants to address any concerns or share any resources (useful links, recommended watching/reading, etc) that are relevant to the panel. Include questions you’d like to open with (three is a good number) and ask if they have topics they want to cover or any questions of their own that they’d like to ask.
- 2. At the beginning of the panel
Start the panel with an appropriate greeting and the name of said panel, introduce yourself and give a brief description of the subject. From here let the participants introduce themselves. It’s a good idea to sit on the end of the row of a panel, this way you can see all your panelists. If you’re going to be moderating a lot of panels, be sure to change up which end you sit on to avoid unnecessary neck pain.
- 3. During the panel, keeping the conversation going
Stay engaged in the conversation, take notes if needed. Be aware if someone has been talking for too long or if someone hasn’t had a chance to speak at all. It’s strongly recommended that the first 50 minutes (rough estimate) are designated for panelist discussion leaving the last 20 minutes for audience Q and A. Moderators also serve as guides for audiences to make sure no one talks for too long and that a fair amount of questions are asked (or statement made)
Make sure the discussion stays on topic. If someone goes off-topic into a subject that you know is covered at another panel, you can plug that panel then steer the discussion back on course. Another useful tip is to use the phrase “That’s a subject for another panel.” to help get back on track.
- 4. Dealing with interruptions or going off the rails
Common difficulties with panelists include talking over others, going off topic or otherwise impeding the flow of the discussion. As the moderator you can politely interrupt them and redirect to another panelist, especially if there’s one who hasn’t had a chance to speak yet. Alternately, you can always bring up another topic with a different panelist as a way to get the rest of the group back into the discussion.
- 5. Managing the audience
The task of a moderator is to provide structure and guidance for a panel, but the audience itself may also need some direction as well. There will be some people in attendance who might want to speak up right away rather than wait for a Q & A. This isn’t wholly unreasonable, but when an audience member begins to take too much time away from the panelists or become disruptive, the moderator must intervene.
When you do call on the audience for questions, avoid gendered language ("sir", "miss", "girl/boy"). Don't assume that the audience member can see you pointing at them, either. Using clothing as identifiers can be a good technique (blue shirt, red corset, TARDIS dress), but do NOT use assistive devices ("person in the wheelchair") and do not assume that an unusual outfit is a costume, especially at Arisia!
In the same way that you would do so for panelists, be aware of audience commentators who talk over others, talk for too long or make inappropriate remarks. The phrase “this isn’t a question so much as a comment” is a huge red flag. It may be worth interrupting them to move on to actual questions, depending on the tone of the discussion happening in the room. In regards to sensitive topics, some in the audience will have valuable insight or experience, but some may also take the opportunity to share personal views that do not contribute to the discussion.
There will, of course, be those audience members that will just want to argue; it’s best to politely interrupt them and move on. If someone is dominating the conversation, point out that others are waiting to speak. You can also say “sorry, we’re going to move on” as an appropriate re-direct.
- 6. Wrapping up
Don't be afraid to end early if you've covered everything! Avoid asking panelists for "one final thought". Typically, they'll recap what they've already said, or they'll bring up a new topic which there won't be time to cover. Instead, you can use the time instead for a last question from the audience, or ask your panelists something forward-looking about what changes they see ahead (if applicable) or what they might be looking forward to regarding the given subject.
Do what you can to avoid running long. It's disrespectful to everyone's time, especially the next panel, and your audience will get restless or leave. Discreetly checking the time at various points in the panel is a good way to make sure that the given time limit isn’t surpassed.Be sure to thank everyone at the end of your panel!