How do make sure each panelist gets a fair amount of time to answer the questions 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, what do you do when a panelist is taking up too much “air time”?

 Susan: So I do have a couple things I try. I always start with body language. So, when I am happy with them speaking, I always sit back, and when I am no longer happy with them speaking, I lean in, and usually that’s enough, weirdly, because people are very receptive to the body language of the moderator. The second body language thing I do is I start out with my arm flat on the table with a pen in my hand. And as I get tired of that, and I’m like, “Okay, you’re talking too long,” I slowly raise my hand with my pen and then I point it at them and I interrupt.

And the way I interrupt, it’s best if you can find a segue, if they said something that you think would apply to another person on the panel that you can ask. That’s not always possible. I’ve once had a panel where someone was literally reading down a list of things they wanted to say and just was not paying any attention and was not saying anything that would allow me to engage with someone else. And in that case, you have to interrupt, and usually what I say is, “Thank you so much, it’s very interesting. I just want to make sure we get these other people’s perspectives.”

I also do preventative measures ahead of time if I know I have someone who’s like that, which is that I say, “Hey, I just want to make sure, you know, some of the people on the panel are quiet, I want to make sure that everyone gets an equal chance to speak. Will you help me with that?”

And by inviting them to help me, it puts them on my side, and suddenly they’re on the side of enforcing the rules rather than, you know, breaking them. And is there an arc> Are they coming to a close? And how far away is that close? Or, are they just going on forever? And then also, how much time are the other panelists speaking? And is there some way I can make sure that they speak more? So I think there’s a lot of factors in figuring out when to do it and how to do it, depending on the personality of who you’re working with.

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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!