“I come up with dozens of questions for the panel ahead of time… I literally write 30-50 questions down in advance, knowing that I may only get to 5 of them, but when I do they will be phrased exactly how I want them, and the panel will be kept on track.”
-Tom Webster, writer, speaker, and panel moderator.
As a panel moderator, asking insightful and interesting questions is one of your biggest responsibilities.
Don’t make up your mind about the topic.
Rather, come in with the perspective that you are intensely interested in the topic and want to gain insights by questioning the panelists.
Your questions can spark a great discussion that will leave the audience both informed and entertained. So, make sure you know what you want to ask before you get on stage.
Here are some questions that will help get you started.
21 Questions to ask when moderating your next panel discussion
While creating questions specifically for your panel is the very best way to make your discussion unique and engaging, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. (Read more below to find out how to create and crosscheck your questions.)
Here are 21 questions you could ask almost any panel to get it started or to keep it going if you run out of your own questions.
- How can we advance the [field/topic/industry]?
- How has the [field/topic/industry] changed in the past 5 years? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?
- What is the biggest challenge in the [field/topic/industry] at the moment?
- What are the most critical changes that we must make to face the future effectively?
- What effect has [specific technology] made on the [field/topic/industry]?
- Who is making the greatest advancements in the [field/topic/industry], and what are they doing?
- What is the most interesting trend for 2019?
- What do you think the best outcome for the [audience/industry/planet] would be?
- What is the number one way we can make a substantial difference?
- In your publication [book/article/etc] you stated that [view point]. How did you come to that? [Follow up question to another panelist]: Do you have a different perspective?
- What made you decide to tackle this subject? How did you get into the [industry/field], and why do you stay?
- What are some of the ways people from your [industry/field] are making a difference in the world?
- What has helped you get to where you are [influential/effective/in the forefront] and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
- What are common misconceptions people have? How can we combat these misconceptions and communicate more effectively?
- Do you remember a specific experience of where you wished that [you/your organization/your industry] had done something differently? If you were to do it over, what would you change?
- A follow-up to the previous question: By way of comparison, do you remember something you’ve done or something you wish everyone was doing, and why?
- What’s the question you are most tired of hearing on this subject, and what would you like to say about it so you never have to answer it again?
- What question would you like to hear [specific panelist] answer?
- What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out?
- What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?
- Is there anything we’re leaving out here that needs to be addressed?
Create your own questions
When creating your own questions, you need to start with going back to the purpose of your panel. Why are you here, and why should your audience care?
Each question should come back to this and constantly be pushing your panelists towards creating value and insights for your audience.
What kind of questions should you ask?
What will the audience be interested in learning about?
Will this question draw upon the panelist's experiences in a useful way?
Is this question open-ended, or will you get a simple “yes” or “no” answer?
Will the question start a deeper conversation? Does it have the potential to spark a debate?
Is this question something you can’t easily find the answer to on the internet?
Why is this particular panelist on the panel? What unique perspective can they add? How can you draw that out?
After you’ve created your list of questions, go back through and check to make sure it passes the checklist below.
5-Point checklist - Is the question:
Clearly tied to the topic being discussed.
Reflective of the panelists’ perspectives, experiences, or interests.
Addressing the issues, challenges or interests of the audience.
An important topic to discuss right now.
Going to ignite a conversation (controversial/different perspectives or experiences).
Where do you start? Opening questions
The first question will set the tone for the panel and is crucial to sparking immediate intrigue.
Avoid over-generalities and try to make it interesting.
The first person to speak will also influence the tone of the panel, so consider who you want to start with and why.
If you start with the quietest person on the panel, will this get them talking right away and keep them engaged in the conversation?
If you start with the person with the most experience, will they be able to give a well-rounded background to the topic right away?
What about the person who originally proposed the idea for the panel? Will they be the most likely to set the tone you are looking for?
Should you ask everyone the same opening question to get their initial perspectives at the beginning?
3 Types of opening questions
- Easy warm-up
Start with a broad, simple question so the panelists can get comfortable.
Some examples include asking for a state-of-play, some background on the topic, or how they got involved.
Don’t spend too long here, though. Quickly segue into more controversial topics, or you could risk boring your audience.
Skip the niceties, and start with a bang.
Establish perspective by breaking out a provocative question.
Some examples: ask each panelist to offer a strong opinion on the topic, or to describe the greatest challenge we (or the industry) face moving forward.
Sometimes, it is not possible to find out the knowledge level of your audience before the panel, so starting with a question that will help you, and the panelists, determine this at the beginning can be very helpful.
Find out the level of their knowledge by asking for a show of hands.
For example: “How many people have been in the industry for less than a year?”, “Over a year?”, “Over 5 years?”, or “Who thinks they could probably run this panel?” (asked with light humor); or “How many people agree with [a certain perspective on the topic]?” “How many disagree?”
Now, get out there and ask some great questions!
You have a special role as a moderator to a panel. Your task is to make it as insightful, interesting, and informative as possible.
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Panel moderating experts: what are some questions you always fall back on? Please share your experience, and we may include your advice in a future article. Contact us.
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