Ugh.  Sometimes, someone from the audience asks a lame question in a panel discussion.  As the panel moderator OR a panelist, I believe you have two options:

  1. You can either look like a deer in the headlight, or
  2. Reframe the question into a “better” question!

When the question is…

Unfocused or Unclear.  Rephrase the question as close to the questioner’s words and intention, but give it a bit more clarity.  After you have rephrased it, check for agreement.  But then again, if you really have absolutely no idea what the person is asking, ask the person to “headline” the question for you.

Weak.  Rather than restating or merely repeating the question, tweak a weak question to make it better than it is.  Check with the questioner to make sure that is what was meant.

Too Specific, Detailed or Complex. Suggest the questioner talk with the panelist immediately after the session. “That’s an interesting question, and perhaps better addressed in depth by Panelist A after the wider Q&A we’re doing now.”

Long Winded.   Firmly but politely remind the questioner to state the question.  “What is your question?,” “Get to the question, please,” or you can be a little brash and ask, “Is there a question in there?”  But let’s say you’re a patient person.  Let the questioner finish his or her thought and chances are, the real question is lurking in the last spoken sentence.  But then again, there may be MULTIPLE questions buried in there, so you may want to tease them out and answer all of them or just one.

A Comment.  Intervene quickly when the audience member says,  “I don’t have a question, it’s more of a comment….”  Briefly remind the entire audience that, “The panelists will be available for comments at the end,” and then move briskly to the next questioner.

What other difficult situations do you run into with a lame question from an audience member during a panel discussion?

Related Articles:

Audience and Panelist Engagement AFTER the Panel Discussion

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high-stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.

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