Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World

Soundbite 08: How to moderate a panel like a pro

July 26, 2023 Maryam Pasha & Simon Bucknall Season 1 Episode 16
Soundbite 08: How to moderate a panel like a pro
Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World
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Speechless – Tell Stories that Change the World
Soundbite 08: How to moderate a panel like a pro
Jul 26, 2023 Season 1 Episode 16
Maryam Pasha & Simon Bucknall

The art of moderating a panel. For many, a “Dark Art”. How to lead your speakers, keep your audience engaged and (where necessary) even keep the peace! Panels need a steady hand and intense concentration. In this Speechless Soundbite, co-hosts Simon Bucknall and Maryam Pasha get into the practicalities of moderating a panel discussion, and some quick actionable tips to help you level up, fast. 

Show Notes Transcript

The art of moderating a panel. For many, a “Dark Art”. How to lead your speakers, keep your audience engaged and (where necessary) even keep the peace! Panels need a steady hand and intense concentration. In this Speechless Soundbite, co-hosts Simon Bucknall and Maryam Pasha get into the practicalities of moderating a panel discussion, and some quick actionable tips to help you level up, fast. 

Maryam Pasha  0:01  
Welcome to speechless sound bites practical storytelling tips in under five minutes. In this week's speech, the sound bite, we take a look at how to chair panels, which we know can be notoriously tricky.

Simon Bucknall  0:16  
Panel discussions and all the fireside chat whether impersonal online become very, very popular over recent years is quite noticeable both in house as well as industry wide events and so on. But they can be made or broken by the quality of the facilitation by by the chair. So we'd love to hear some of your top tips Maryam for chairing a panel discussion for an audience. I just

Maryam Pasha  0:41  
want to say right off the bat, that this might be the role that terrifies me the most? Because it's so important. Cheering. I said probably no more cheering things than anything else.

Simon Bucknall  0:57  
Because tip one, be willing to say no,

Maryam Pasha  0:59  
no. And the reason for that kind of goes into my first tip is you've got to do the work. You can't just say, Yeah, sure. Because you got to do the work, you learned the research, you've got to understand, you know, why is this panel happening? What is the outcome? You know, what do they What does like the organisation, the company, whatever it is, why they programme this right, then you have to understand the subject matter. Now, you may or may not be an expert in that, but you have to do it enough to be able to understand, so you have to do your research, you know, whether that's researching the speakers, the topic, the goal, you have to do the work. So I don't take this, this kind of ask, I don't take on board lightly. The second one I have here is really practical, which is, you know, check with your speakers, that there's no areas that they do not want to talk about. Because a really good rapport between a chair and a speaker is really wonderful for the audience, and it can make things go smoothly. But if you are, I'm going to make a caveat, obviously, that this is because I'm assuming that no one here is doing like gotcha journalism, or, you know, being invited to chair something you're trying to find out like some secret from someone. But in most 98% of contexts, you know, it's not some kind of investigative journalist setup. It's not hard talk exactly your there may be things your speaker doesn't want to talk about. Now, sometimes it might go there. And the speaker might have to say, you know, I don't know, I don't know this. But if you can help them feel comfortable, that you are not going to steer this conversation in a way that's going to make them nervous, they're more likely to build that rapport and trust with you, and have really honest and vulnerable conversations. And the third one is be interested, right, but don't make it about you. So you have to be interested in the conversation that your thing, right, that is so important. But you can't be so interested, that you want to comport be a participant in that conversation and take it over. And I've I have to say I have fought this urge. So I understand it, and I have seen it happen. And it's like that you can immediately tell the audience, they're just like, Please, I'm here to hear this person speak. I'm not here to hear you speak. So I once I did, I spoke to a journalist who's actually a brilliant interviewer a while back, and I asked her a bit about how she prepares. And I asked her about this very thing. And she said to me, you get to answer one question. So if you are chairing a panel or something and the question, you know, you ask a question or a question is asked, and you really want to interject, you can do it once. That's it. After that, you no longer have a chair, and you lose all credibility also in trying to keep things on track. So be interested, but don't be so interested that you turn you become a panellist.

Simon Bucknall  3:52  
And related to that I can remember being a panel member for an online discussion during one of the COVID lock downs where the chair seemed to think that it was really about the chair and they did like a nine to 10 minute opening introduction, which was really about them and their experience and not much about either the topics or the panellists or the other panellists, and I was sitting there thinking, I don't know how the other panellists felt, but I was sitting there thinking, like a keynote speech by the

Maryam Pasha  4:17  
chair, this goes back to my first point about being prepared during your research. Like, if you have been asked to set the scene for five minutes, you have to say, so I'm just gonna set the scene for a few minutes. And then I'm gonna get into this. So the expectations right, but if if you haven't done that, and you're just all over the place. Yeah, it's not an easy one. But those are my tips. All right.

Simon Bucknall  4:37  
So from my side, yeah, love those tips. Mariana, for me. The first thought that came to my mind was that assuming that the topic is clear, and the broad overarching lines of inquiry, a clear, in a way have given you got a sense for what kind of themes you want to go into.

Maryam Pasha  4:51  
Why are you there? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah,

Simon Bucknall  4:53  
taking on board the point about no go areas, as you rightly said, to steer clear of, I'd say think of this as this is a behind the scene. is behind the curtains tight. Luckily for an audience that's that's one of the real benefits of a conversational feel of a panel. So, dig for stories, dig for insight, dig for personal perspectives, as opposed to just pure, rational explanations. And that can be something that can be flushed out a little bit with the speaker's the panellists in advance, if, as is sometimes possible, as the chair, you get a chance to have a little briefing session beforehand, not to literally rehearse what they're going to say, but to try and tease out what kind of personal perspectives people can bring, because that's just so much more likely to be interesting and engaging for the audience. And the second thing I'd say is an actual technique when in the midst of the discussion, and it relates to this idea of digging deeper is, is to look for follow ups. So if I ask a question to a panellist, and they give you the answer, they go chat, chat, chat, chat, chat, chat chat, that may be what the audience really wants or needs. And that's enough, move on to the next person. But actually, very often, it makes sense as the chair to listen carefully to what said, and then to pick up and essentially, you mentioned that point about chop, and reference, something they said said bit more about that, and dig in. So you then get into a second level or even at the third level, because often, the real juice is buried a level or two down, not because the panellist is trying to conceal it. But just because sometimes front of mind, the best stuff doesn't come out right away. So the quality of follow ups, whether it's a follow up question or a follow up prompt, I think can really, really add to a panel discussion, and especially for an audience because it's much less likely to feel like it's scripted and set up when when one does that. And then the third and final thing I'd say is, especially if you've got a lively panel, and you've got say three or more panellists is to, is to name check people when you're inviting or posing a question. So if I pose a question, say when there's any question around x, Mariama and so I wonder what what are your thoughts on by saying, Maryam immediately, of course, as the listener, you know, that it's gonna be your turn to speak and crucially, so to the other panellists. So that way, you can give a bit of advance warning to the person you're wanting to hear from. And it can be a neat way, of course, to shift perspective. From and To transition from one speaker, one panellist to another use the person's name for whom you want to hear from next.

Maryam Pasha  7:07  
I have a cheeky follow up question. What happens if someone is really disruptive in the audience? This is something that people ask me like, I would cheer, but I'm really worried that the audience will ask a terrible question on they'll be disruptive. Do you have good advice for that?

Simon Bucknall  7:24  
Well, I think as the chair you have the right to decide whether or not you're going to invite questions or comments from the audience or not, you might choose to you might not. So I think even if

Maryam Pasha  7:32  
a panellist is being disruptive, like, you know how that there's sometimes people who take over the show or, you know, do you have advice on the kind of something that's going wrong?

Simon Bucknall  7:40  
Yeah, well, the, the most important thing, I think, is to is to stay as calm as you can, so that you stay with the majority of the audience, keep the audience on your side. And so, and there's no value in getting into a slanging match with who can speak the loudest, because the longer that you tolerate two voices at the same time, the more it weakens your position. So it might take a few moments and land to burn themselves out. Or if they don't, then of course, when you step in, it has to be decisive. And I'd say, therefore, if you're going to intervene, the key is to be assertive with that. So rather than Could I could I just stop you there or just hold on him? Because I'm not quite short. I'm asking for permission, and it weakens me. Let me stop you there and see what the reaction is. And if they keep going. Pause right there. Let me summarise and if if genuinely someone keeps persisting, well, then okay, you're getting into real, proper hackle territory. It's unlikely, actually, after one or two brief, assertive statement, not question asking for permission, interventions.

Maryam Pasha  8:43  
Oh, yes. Great advice. And I think your speakers will thank you for it. I've had to do it. Actually. I was asked to chair a panel, I really wanted to do it. And I said, Yes. And that one of the panellists started speaking, like five minutes in and someone just blurted out from the audience. Well, well, what about this? And you could see that Hannah's just looked at me, and I was like, that's my advice, really, is that like you? It's your job. That's your job. There is like you cannot leave it up to your panellists to, to moderate and to you have to step in and just say, we're not taking questions, but we will come back to you. And if you still have that question, we can explore it. Yes. But then I don't reward that behaviour either. Yeah.

Simon Bucknall  9:26  
But that's and it's and it's a tricky balancing act. This, isn't it? It's a judgement call. Because if it's something which you think is a genuine outburst, it's not someone deliberately trying to cause trouble. It might be something which they just feel very strongly about depends on the topic and the context. Of course, one can acknowledge it without necessarily agreeing with it. So I realise there will be strong views on this in the audience. But please hold because we're going to hear from the panellist. So you acknowledge it finds it's courteous to that person. Unless of course, of course, that's assuming goodwill on the part of that person. But as you say, it's tricky because you absolutely got to protect the speaker's that straight right, absolutely right.

Maryam Pasha  10:00  
Okay, so my takeaway here is that my takeaway someone who is scared of cheering is that I will try to say yes more and use Simon your brilliant tips on how to be better at this. Because actually, when you chair a great panel, it's amazing

Simon Bucknall  10:19  
isn't taken takeaways from this week's conversation about chairing a panel that number one. When posing a question or when switching from one panellist to another name, check the panellist you want to hear from next, it gives them a heads up, and also helps to ensure that you mix up the discussion and other panels know not to speak out of turn. Secondly, be interested in the conversation you're chairing find a way to care about it, but not so interested that you try and take over the discussion because in the end, the audience wants to hear from the panellists more than they want to hear from the chair. If you're going to answer a question, limit yourself. Just one. Pick wisely. Finally, know why you're really there that this is a behind the scenes opportunity for the audience to see what's really going on. That's what a good panel discussion is about. So dig for insights, dig for stories and human interest. Thanks for listening to this speech at sound bite until next time, speak less, say more