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The moderator of a panel discussion must possess many of the attributes of the conductor of an orchestra – be in control, determine the tempo, without playing an instrument – and certainly not blow one’s own trumpet. Having accepted  the assignment, the moderator must accomplish several things.

UNDERSTAND THE TOPIC

The moderator must read the statement of the topic for discussion carefully, making sure to understand all the implications. For example, the statement could be: “The only reason for the existence of sage is for use as stuffing for rich meat.” A panel member may discuss the contribution of sage to our flora. The moderator should know what the living plant looks like.

CONTACT THE PANEL

The moderator must contact members of the panel either in person or by telephone to determine aspects of their personal lives that relate to the topic. The topic for discussion might be: “The only salvation for an alcoholic is to join AA.” Do panel members have personal contact with an alcoholic, or an experience with AA as beneficial or detrimental?

These discussions with panel members will guide the moderator in choosing a lead speaker. Remember, a good opening will grab the attention of the audience right away.

PLAN THE DISCUSSION

The moderator then formulates the program deciding between a formal approach or a less formal one. A formal approach requires that each panel member must always address the moderator before speaking, and that each member is given an opportunity to present a prepared speech. An informal discussion means that the speakers do not have to remember to address the moderator before speaking and that no formal speeches are presented. This does not mean that the speakers are unprepared. The moderator plans the course of discussion by formulating questions or challenging statements relating to some of the main points of the statement. The statement for discussion could be “Smokers endanger the health of non-smokers.” If the panel consists of four members, four major headings could be chosen. For example: 

  • What causes people to smoke?
  • How does the smoke from a smoker affect the environment of non-smokers?
  • How does the smoke affect the health of a non-smoker?
  • Do non-smokers stand as much chance of contracting lung cancer without the pollution caused by smokers?

INFORM THE PANEL

General questions or statements are given to each panel member as a guideline. Also the general organization is explained to each. Finer points, such as seating arrangements, are established. That is, if you know the panel will be sitting on a stage in comfortable chairs, you could advise female panel members that fullskirted dresses or pant suits would be more appropriate than short skirts.

TIMING

  • Give yourself four or five minutes for the initial explanation and introductions.
  • Request panel members to keep to a two minute limit when speaking at any stage. If they are POWERtalk International members, they should be able to judge this without assistance. (If not, it’s up to you to control timing).
  • Allow yourself two to three minutes for summing up.

THE TIME FINALLY ARRIVES

  • See that your panel is comfortably seated in the chairs assigned to them so that the picture in your mind fits the facts. If not, you could embarrass yourself by turning to the wrong person.
  • Explain to your audience what form the proceedings are to take. If informal, it is important to explain to a POWERtalk International audience that speakers need not address you.
  • Introduce the panel members giving information about them that is relevant to the topic – only if you know that they will not be offended, of course.
  • Present the first challenging statement or question to your chosen lead speaker. Thereafter, each speaker in turn is challenged and given an opportunity to speak.
  • Your job really begins when the panel members start to speak. You must listen!
  • After the opening presentations by the speakers, you introduce a new angle or take up a particular point made by a speaker to see what comments arise, never letting discussion flag or become abusive. If someone is taking a back seat, direct a question specifically to that speaker. Do not allow one speaker to dominate. If that happens, take the first opportunity to interrupt and direct the discussion to someone else. Do not allow speakers to interrupt each other.
  • When time-up is approaching, indicate that the discussion is terminated and in a few sentences sum up the comments, ideas and attitudes of the panel members.
  • Thank the panel members for their participation.

CAUTIONS

Your opinions and comments are not required. At no time should you express your own ideas or thoughts.

Have a pen and some small cards to jot down prompters for further discussion as various points are made, and for summing up. But – remember you must be listening and attentive to the discussion all the time. You do not have time to compose a summary.

PANEL MEMBERS HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES, TOO

1) Prepare yourself concerning all aspects of the topic, particularly the main headings or ideas outlined by the moderator.

2) Relax and listen if not speaking.

3) Take your lead from the moderator.

4) Do not interrupt other speakers.

5) To avoid repetition of what you and others have already presented, listen

to yourself and to others.

6) Do not forget the audience. Attempt the impossible by speaking to the audience, the moderator, and panel members simultaneously.

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