Updated: Sep 15, 2022
“I come up with dozens of questions for the panel ahead of time… I literally write 30–50 questions down in advance, knowing that I may only get to 5 of them, but when I do, they will be phrased exactly how I want them, and the panel will be kept on track.”
- Tom Webster, writer, speaker and panel moderator.
As a panel moderator, asking insightful and interesting questions is one of your biggest responsibilities.
Don’t make up your mind about the topic.
Rather, come in with the perspective that you are intensely interested in the topic and want to gain insights by questioning the panelists.
Your inquiries may lead to a stimulating debate that will educate and amuse the audience. So, before you take the stage, be sure to prepare your questions.
To get you started, consider the following queries.
When moderating your next panel discussion, consider these 21 questions.
The easiest approach to make your conversation distinctive and interesting is to develop questions just for your panel, but it can be challenging to know where to begin. (To learn how to design and double-check your questions, continue reading below.)
Here are 21 questions you could ask just about any panel to get it started or to keep it going if you run out of your own questions.
How can we advance the [field/topic/industry]?
How has the [field/topic/industry] changed in the past 5 years? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?
What is the biggest challenge in the [field/topic/industry] at the moment?
What are the most critical changes that we must make to face the future effectively?
What effect has [specific technology] made on the [field/topic/industry]?
Who is making the greatest advancements in the [field/topic/industry], and what are they doing?
What is the most interesting trend for 2018?
What do you think the best outcome for the [audience/industry/planet] would be?
What is the number one way we can make a substantial difference?
In your publication [book/article/etc] you stated that [view point]. How did you come to that? [Follow up question to another panelist]: Do you have a different perspective?
What made you decide to tackle this subject? How did you get into the [industry/field], and why do you stay?
What are some of the ways people from your [industry/field] are making a difference in the world?
What has helped you get to where you are [influential/effective/in the forefront] and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
What are common misconceptions people have? How can we combat these misconceptions and communicate more effectively?
Do you remember a specific experience of where you wished that [you/your organization/your industry] had done something differently? If you were to do it over, what would you change?
A follow-up to the previous question: By way of comparison, do you remember something you’ve done, something you wish everyone was doing, and why?
What’s the question you are most tired of hearing on this subject, and what would you like to say about it so you never have to answer it again?
What question would you like to hear [specific panelist] answer?
What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out?
What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?
Is there anything we’re leaving out here that needs to be addressed?
Make up your own inquiries
Going back to the goal of your panel is where you should begin when coming up with your own questions. Why are you here, and why should your audience be interested in you?
Every question should refer to this and keep the panelists thinking about how to provide value and insights for the audience.
What sort of inquiries ought you to make?
What information will be of interest to the audience?
Will this question be able to make use of the panelists' experiences?
Is the answer to this query a straightforward "yes" or "no," or is it open-ended?
Is there a chance that the query may lead to a more in-depth discussion or a debate?
Is there anything about this query that you couldn't readily look up online?
Why does this specific panelist belong on the panel? What special insight can they offer? How do you extract that?
Checklist of Questions
Make sure your list of inquiries satisfies the following checklist when you've finished creating it.
5 points to consider Is this the query:
Clearly related to the subject at hand.
Reflecting the viewpoints, experiences, or interests of the panelists.
Addressing the audience's concerns, difficulties, or interests.
A subject that has to be discussed right now.
(Controversial/differing opinions or experiences) Going to start a discussion.
Where do you start? Opening questions
The first question will set the tone for the panel and can build interest and intrigue right away. This is about how you want to start the conversation and what your end game is.
Avoid over generalities and try to make it interesting.
The first person to speak will also affect the tone of the panel — so consider who you want to start with and why.
If you start with the quietest person on the panel, will this get them talking right away and will it keep them talking?
If you start with the person with the most experience, will they be able to give a well-rounded background to the topic right away?
What about the person who originally proposed the idea for the panel? Will they be the most likely to set the tone you are looking for?
Should you ask everyone the same opening question to get their initial perspectives right away?
3 varieties of opening queries
Easy warm-up: Start with a broad, simple question so the panelists can get comfortable.
Some examples include asking for a state of play, some background on the topic, or how they got involved.
Don’t spend too long here though, quickly segue into more controversial topics or you could risk boring your audience.
Fire-starter: Skip the niceties and start with a bang.
Establish perspective by breaking out a provocative question.
Some examples: Ask each panelist to offer a strong opinion on the topic, or to describe the greatest challenge we (or the industry) face moving forward.
Audience-reader: Sometimes it is not possible to find out the knowledge level of your audience before the panel, so starting with a question that will help you (and the panelists) determine this at the outset can be very helpful.
Find out the level of their knowledge by asking for a show of hands.
For example: “How many people have been in the industry for less than a year?” “Over a year?” “Over 5 years?” “Who thinks they could probably run this panel?” (as light humor), or “How many people agree with [a certain perspective on the topic]?” “How many disagree?”
Now get out there and ask some great questions!
You have a special role as a moderator to a panel. Your task is to make it as insightful, interesting, and informative as possible.
Panel moderating experts: what are some of the questions you always fall back on? Please share your experience and we may include your advice in a future article.
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