3 Lessons I Learned From Moderating a Panel

By Lia Hyman

It’s no secret that I really enjoy public speaking, so, naturally, I was ecstatic when I discovered that my role as Diversity Director included moderating the Spring Diversity and Ethics panel for PRSSA-UD. As I planned out the event, I determined themes to focus on, panelists to invite, and ways to engage an audience overwhelmed by Zoom burnout.

As I reflect on the incredibly thought-provoking panel I moderated last month, I want to share three lessons I learned along the way about planning and moderating a successful panel discussion.

  1. Think Like The Audience 

While drafting questions for the panelists to discuss, I put myself in the shoes of an audience member. “What would I find most interesting and insightful?” I pondered. I needed refreshing content that would benefit college students and established professionals alike, always relating back to the communication field. During this process, I made it my mission to think outside of the “diversity” box and ask questions that reflected the fast-paced landscape of public relations. Prefacing questions with current event references also helped make topics applicable and relatable to listeners. By imagining you’re just another participant on Zoom, you’ll find it easier to formulate stimulating questions. 

  1. Follow The Flow

I’m a planner. I prepared over one billion questions to ask these esteemed professionals and spent many hours researching their work, diversity and inclusion, and the public relations discipline. During the actual event, I probably only asked about six of those questions.. And that’s OK! Map out and clarify the content as much as you see fit, but make sure to follow the natural flow of the discussion when you’re in the thick of it. Be ready to take things in an unexpected direction, and trust your panelists to share their wealth of knowledge accordingly. You can always steer the ship back on course with a re-directing question if need be!

  1. Speak Less, Get More

Honestly, moderating can feel like center stage. The audience and panelists are both looking to you to guide the conversation, and that can fuel your ego. But… You aren’t the star; you’re more like the pilot on a plane, responsible for the passengers on board, avoiding turbulence, and landing safely. This means shining the spotlight on the real stars – your panelists. My uncle advised me, “The less I say as moderator, the happier I am”. Don’t share your own opinions, and only preface questions with the context that’s absolutely necessary. This will help your audience form a memorable connection with your speakers instead of feeling like they’re intruding on a personal conversation.

I hope you’re able to use some of the lessons I learned while planning our Diversity and Ethics panel, and I am honored to have moderated a panel with such seasoned professionals. Thinking about how much I’ve learned fills me with excitement for future moderating opportunities!

If you didn’t get the chance to tune in live, check out the recording of our 2021 Diversity and Ethics Panel HERE!


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