How do you conduct your Q&A sessions with the audience during a panel discussion at meetings, conferences and conventions?  Professional Panel Moderator Kristin Arnold asked this question of Susan Morris, a fantasy author, editor and absurdly frequent panel moderator at GenCon.

Kristin: Susan, how do you conduct your Q&A sessions with the audience?

Susan: So I’ve done it a couple of different ways, and I actually have done panels that are just Q&A as well, and when I do it, it’s just Q&A, and especially if it’s one person. Like I did one with a literary agent on what literary agents are and how to get one, and that was just him, and it was a Q&A. And so I asked him his preference and I gave him a couple of options. My preferred style for that one is to have the audience members write on pieces of paper their questions ahead of time and pass them up at the beginning. And the reason I really like that is that a lot of people have the same question, and it kind of allows me to put a priority on questions.

It also allows me to word the questions in a way that covers the most space and that isn’t offensive and that kind of gets at what they’re actually asking. Because sometimes people ask the question, and because they don’t know the space, they don’t know how to phrase it such to get the answer they want or they’re looking for.

On the panels where it’s multiple speakers, we usually don’t do that, even though sometimes I think that would be good, but because they’ve listened to 30 minutes of speaking already, usually their questions would have changed.

So usually what happens is that I’ll call on someone, and, you know, before I start that section I remind them, “In the form of a question,” and then I’ll call on someone, they ask their question, and the panelists take turns answering. And sometimes only one or two will answer, and that’s good, and we’ll go to someone else and we’ll make sure the other two answer that one. I always keep count in my head to make sure I’m calling on a diverse number of people, and like not all men or something like that. Because I’ve heard that there’s actually an unconscious bias that causes us to call on the same kind of person over and over, so I actually really do keep a count in my head to make sure I’m covering a swathe.

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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.

And, you can always go back to the playlist for more Powerful Panel Discussion Tips!