21 Questions to ask when moderating your next panel discussion

Updated: Apr 14

“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.

One of your most important obligations as a panel moderator is to ask smart and entertaining questions.

Don't make a decision on the subject.

Instead, approach the event with the mindset that you are deeply interested in the subject and want to learn more by asking the panelists.

Your questions have the potential to elicit a lively debate that will leave viewers both educated and delighted. So, before you go on stage, be sure you know what you want to ask.

Here are a few questions to help you get started.

21 Questions to ask when moderating your next panel discussion

While tailoring questions to your panel is the most effective approach to make your conversation unique and interesting, it can be tough to know where to begin. (For additional information on how to construct and cross-check your questions, see the section below.)

Here are 21 questions you could ask any panel to get the conversation started or to keep it going if you run out of questions of your own.

  1. How may the [field/topic/industry] be advanced?

  2. What has changed in the [field/topic/industry] during the last 5 years? In the next 5 to 10 years, what do you think will happen?

  3. What is the most pressing issue in the [field/topic/industry] right now?

  4. What are the most important adjustments we need to make in order to properly face the future?

  5. What impact has [a particular technology] had on [a particular field/topic/industry]?

  6. Who in the [field/topic/industry] is making the most progress, and what are they doing?

  7. What do you think the most exciting trend for 2018 will be?

  8. What do you believe would be the best outcome for the [audience/industry/planet]?

  9. What is the most effective approach for us to make a significant difference?

  10. [Point of view] was mentioned in your publication [book/article/etc]. What brought you to this conclusion? [Another panelist is asked a follow-up question.] Have you considered this from a different angle?

  11. What drew you to this topic in the first place? Why do you stay in the [industry/field]?

  12. What are some examples of how people in your [industry/field] are making a positive influence in the world?

  13. What factors have aided you in becoming [influential/effective/in the spotlight], and what advice would you provide to those who desire to follow in your footsteps?

  14. What are the most prevalent misunderstandings? What can we do to dispel these myths and improve communication?

  15. Do you recall a specific instance when you wished [you/your organization/your industry] had done things differently? What would you alter if you could go back in time?

  16. A follow-up question to the prior one: As an example, do you recall something you've done that you wish everyone was doing, and why?

  17. What is the question regarding this subject that you are most weary of hearing, and what would you like to say in response to it so you never have to answer it again?

  18. What question would you like [a certain panelist] to respond to?

  19. What one piece of advice would you provide to someone just starting out?

  20. What is the finest resource for those who wish to go deeper into the subject?

  21. Is there anything that needs to be handled that we're overlooking?

Make up your own inquiries.

When coming up with your own questions, remember to start with the panel's purpose. Why are you here, and why should your audience be interested in what you have to say?

Each question should return to this, and your panelists should be continually pushed to provide value and insights to your audience.

What types of inquiries should you make?

  • What topics will pique the audience's interest?

  • Will this question make advantage of the panelists' previous experiences?

  • Is this a closed-ended inquiry, or will you get a simple "yes" or "no" response?

  • Is there a chance that the inquiry will lead to a more in-depth discussion or perhaps a debate?

  • Is there anything about this subject that you can't find an answer to on the internet?

  • What is the purpose of having this particular panelist on the panel? What fresh insight can they bring to the table? What's the best way to express that?

Checklist of Questions

After you've made your list of questions, look through it again to make sure it meets the criteria outlined below.

Checklist with 5 points — Is the following the question:

  • Clearly related to the issue at hand.

  • Reflective of the viewpoints, experiences, or interests of the panelists.

  • Addressing the audience's concerns, difficulties, or interests.

  • This is a critical issue to debate right now.

  • I'm going to start a debate (controversial/different viewpoints or experiences).

Where do you start? Opening questions

The opening question will establish the tone for the panel and can immediately pique people's curiosity and fascination. This is about how you want to begin the conversation and what you want to achieve in the end.

Avoid using too many generalizations and strive to keep it interesting.

The first person to speak has an impact on the panel's tone, so think about who you want to start with and why.

Will starting with the quietest member on the panel immediately get them started and keep them talking?

Will the person with the most experience be able to provide a well-rounded background on the issue immediately away if you start with them?