What is “layered group listening?” and how can moderators can use it during a panel discussion at meetings, conferences, and conventions?  Professional Panel Moderator Kristin Arnold asked this question of Dr. Chip Bell, professional speaker and panel moderator.


Video Transcript

Kristin:  Chip, are there any techniques you use that you would like to share with other panel moderators?

Chip:  One of the techniques that I’ve used in a number of organization is called ‘Layered group listening’ and it works like this. I’ve used it at Harley Davidson. I’ve used it Victoria Secret. I’ve used it in a number of companies. And basically it’s a very cool concept and it starts with a, let’s say you’ve got fifty people in a room. And you bring in five customers or six customers and you do a focus group and the people who are—you have two circles. You have people who are circled around the customers who serve that customer or people like them.

And then you’ve got a ring around that group that are the leaders and managers of the organization. And so you lead the first conversation with the customers and the people who are in the first circle can ask questions of the panel for clarification. Or to understand what—they can’t defend they can only ask questions for clarification. The people on the outer circle can’t say anything. Back when we did it for Harley Davidson the people on the outside ring got fined a hundred bucks if they opened their mouths because leaders want to open their mouths.

But I did give the people who were on the outer circle a chance to come send me a card, “Ask them this, Ask them this.” So that could be interjected and they’re dying to ask questions can be interjected. Then, this is the cool part, the customers leave. Let’s say it’s an hour conversation, and the customers leave and now the front line people move to the table in the middle where the customers were and the people who are in the outer ring; the managers move to that first circle.

Now you lead a second panel discussion with the front line people reacting to what they heard and now the leaders can only ask questions for clarification. And so then once you finish that there is a problem solving discussion that goes on with everybody to say here’s what we heard what are we going to do about it? How are we going to fix this? When we did it in Victoria Secret they brought the customers back to participate in the problem solving with everybody in the room.

And so sometimes you do, depends on what kind of dirty linen they got aired in the process. Sometimes you bring the customers back, sometimes you don’t. Depends on the organization and what they want. But the fact that you’re trying to listen through layers is very much helpful learning. And sometimes you would have front line people who go, “I don’t want my boss hearing about something I might have done, or someone like me.” But that’s what I used to think. But what we get instead is, “Thank goodness they were in here and got to hear the same thing I’ve been complaining about or fussing about or struggling with. And they got to hear it first hand from the customer. And then they involve me in problem solving and how we deal with it.

So it’s a cool technique.

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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a crusade to make all panel discussions informative, interactive, and interesting.   Specifically, she wants to help YOU become a better panel moderator.  Why?  Because 95% of annual meetings have panel discussions – and according to the 2014 Panel Report, it’s a fifty-fifty proposition they are any good at all!  Expectations decrease dramatically when your attendees walk in and see the traditional draped head-table with microphones on short stands.  There are sooooo many other ways to have a stimulating conversation!  So let’s increase the probability of success for your next panel discussion with these resources.

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