Question: I am moderating an upcoming panel with a wide range of panelists: One bona fide expert who has written a ton of books on the subject, a practitioner, and a student. I am concerned that the “expert” will dominate the discussion. What are your ideas?
Answer: This certainly has the potential to be a sticky situation, so I commend you for thinking this through! From a “prevention” perspective, I would appeal to him in a pre-panel chat either over the phone or face-to-face prior to the panel (NOT by email).
Appeal to his ego by saying something like: “George, I know that you are the expert in the field. I’ve read all your books and follow your thought leadership – and I know that you have a tremendous wealth of knowledge that you could share during this upcoming panel discussion. In fact, you could probably just do a break-out session on your own! However, we are doing a panel discussion and it’s important that you be able to present your ideas succinctly while making sure the other panelists have an equal amount of time to present their ideas.”
Take it one step farther and enlist his help by asking, “Would you be so kind as to help me out and make sure we are able to hear equally from all the panelists?”
A little self-awareness goes a long way, and I find that when you stroke the ego a bit and then ask for help, the expert panelist usually complies.
But then again, it may not work. So have a few techniques in your back pocket to redirect the conversation:
- “George, that’s an interesting point; Susan, would you like to comment?”
- “Ladies first! Susan, how about you start…”
- Restate or re-frame the question and direct it to another panelist.
- Gently interrupt him if he goes on too long and assure him that you can return to discussing that topic later on in the panel if there is enough time.
- Interject at the end of a sentence or while the panelist is taking a breath and redirect the conversation.
These intervention techniques are largely dependent on your own personal style, the topic, the ground rules you have established, the vibe in the room and the audience’s personality.
So think through any preventions you might put into place as well as some possible interventions – and then you’ll be ready!
To learn more steps to successfully moderate a panel discussion like a pro, try this user-friendly guide.
About the Author:
Kristin Arnold MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP, is a professional meeting facilitator and panel moderator. She is passionate about making meetings and panel discussions more engaging, interactive and collaborative. You can read more of her work in one of her books Team Basics, Email Basics, Team Energizers, or Boring to Bravo.