I was recently moderating a panel discussion with several hundred people in attendance and we decided to use microphone runners to solicit questions from the audience (otherwise known as Q&A). The meeting organizer said, “Yeah, I’ll have four of our people do that.”
“Great!” I said. “I’d like them to attend the meet-up beforehand so I can describe their role in the panel discussion.”
The meeting organizer paused and said, “Okay.” I don’t think she was expecting that.
Being the mic runner is more complex than just handing a person a microphone and saying, “Go find me some questions.”
There is an art to soliciting questions from the audience. I call them the Ten Commandments. So here goes:
- Know thy microphone.
The A/V team will give you a cordless handheld microphone that probably has a piece of tape with the microphone number written on it. That’s your number and your microphone. Have them show you how to turn it on and off. Typically, the A/V team will hand you the microphone right before the panel already turned on. You don’t have to do anything. If need be, the A/V team will mute the your microphone from the main soundboard.
- Constantly scan your designated section of the audience for the next questioner.
For larger audiences with multiple runners, you’ll divide the room up into segments: You have this half of the room; your mic runner buddy will have the other half. Your responsibility is to cover your designated section. You’ll want to have an aisle seat in your section so you can be ready for the Q&A.
- Signal interest in getting a question by walking down the aisle, holding the microphone out to the audience.
During the Q&A session, start at the front of your section, face the audience (your back will be to the stage) and walk down the aisle, looking for the next question. Don’t by shy about showing people that you are holding the microphone (but don’t be obnoxious, either!)
- Run to the questioner, stand by their side, and raise your hand high so the moderator knows where you are.
When someone indicates interest, run over to them. That’s why you are called the mic runner. (Ladies, this is a good time to mention that it is much more comfortable to run in flat shoes. You don’t have to wear your marathon running shoes, but a comfortable shoe that allows you to dash around a ballroom!)
- Stand tall. Smile. Be kind. Be reassuring until it is their turn to talk.
You may have to stand there for a while as the moderator will typically go in sequence between mic runners. While the two of you are waiting, be positive. Send good wishes in their direction. Sounds kinda woo-woo but there is a distinct difference in the questions posed from a grumpy vs. happy mic runner.
- Never give the microphone to the questioner.
In my experience, the moment you hand the questioner the microphone, you have just given license for that person to give a speech – even if the moderator provided specific instructions on how the Q&A session should go. To keep the questions tight and succinct, I hold on to the microphone.
That being said, sometimes that’s not as important or the meeting organizer would prefer the questioner takes the microphone. In that case, I suggest you bend the knee or take an open seat while the person asks the question. In this way, you are not in the way of other attendees or the camera.
- Hold the microphone one fist away from the questioner’s mouth.
The average person does not know how to hold a handheld microphone. If you hand it to them, they’ll fiddle with the on/off switch, ask if you can hear them, and hold the microphone too far away for adequate projection. The optimal placement of the head of the microphone is about one fist away from the person’s mouth. That’s actually closer than you think!
- Stay by their side until the question has been understood by the panel, then go in search of the next question.
After the person asks the question, the panel might have a clarifying question, so you don’t want to leave their side too soon – but you do want to find the next questioner. If it’s just you, you need to hoof it. If there are two runners, you’ll have a bit more time. With three runners, you’ll have even more. (You get the idea!)
- When ready with the next questioner, raise your hand high so the moderator knows where you are.
The key here is that there is NO LAG TIME between questions. The panel finishes one question, the moderator immediately sees a runner with a hand up and the next question starts. Depending on the room set, sometimes the stage lights are so bright that it will be hard for the moderator to see you. So knowing that it is “your turn,” you may want to do a simple shout-out “here!” so the moderator knows where you are.
- Enjoy yourself. If you have fun, then they will too!
Don’t be grumpy, bored, or lethargic as the audience will pick up on your lackluster attitude and won’t volunteer. Instead, be lively, interested, and energetic, and they will be as well!
How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments
How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion
Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions
For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.