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Panel moderators use open-ended questions to incite conversation and closed questions to summarize or exact a short answer from a panelist.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  We all know the person who can take a closed question and ramble on and on OR the teenager who can take an open-ended question and turn it into a closed question:

“Hi honey!  How was your day?” (open)

“Fine” (closed)

A skilled moderator will rephrase the question to illicit a more extensive response:

“What was the best thing about your day today?” (open)

“Nothing.” (closed)

Ahhhh, the joys of parenting!  Well, the same thing can happen on a panel.  Be thoughtful about the phrasing of your question.  Are you trying to open up the discussion or pinpoint a position?

For the 2019-2020 Democratic Debates, (which I have been commenting on),  it’s been a 65/35 split: 65% open-ended questions and 35% closed questions:

Type # % Debate 1a Debate 1b Debate 2a Debate 2b Debate 3 Debate 4 Debate 5 Debate 6 Debate 7
Open 298 65% 40 34 45 31 36 50 28 22 29
Closed 162 35% 20 18 12 9 16 26 17 21 23
Total # of  questions 477 60 52 57 40 52 76 45 43 52

That seems pretty reasonable to me.  However, that’s not the interesting part.  Of those closed questions (35% of the questions on average), the candidates could respond in three ways:

  1. Answer the question right away
  2. Answer the question within the allotted timeframe
  3. Not answer the question at all

On average, the candidates didn’t answer the closed question about a third of the time!

1a 1b 2a 2b 3 4 5 6 7
Answered Right Away 11 11 7 4 8 15 8 12 17
Answered After Explanation 3 4 1 1 1 3 4 3 2
Didn’t Answer 6 3 4 4 7 8 5 6 4
Repeated Question/Follow Up 2 3 2 1 2 3 1 3 2
% of Closed Questions didn’t answer 30% 17% 33% 44% 44% 31% 29% 29% 17%

Ahhh. But here’s the really interesting part: If the candidate didn’t answer the closed question at all, the moderator would only follow up on those questions 40%  of the time (on average).  Some debate moderators are better at this than others!

% of Closed Questions not answered – but followed up 33% 100% 50% 25% 29% 38% 20% 50% 50%

So I gotta ask: Why should you answer a direct, tough question when the moderator will follow up less than half the time?



For more information, check out my website at www.RulesAnalyst.com.  Book me now to comment (live , Zoom, or pre-recorded interviews) on the next debate by calling me at 480.399.8489 or set up a time to talk here

Related Articles:

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF | Master, high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator is on a quest to make all panel discussions lively and informative. Check out her free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member. www.PowerfulPanels.com

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