The panel moderator is the conductor of the orchestra

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At Social Media Marketing World I had the pleasure and privilege of moderating the “How to Build an Analytics Dashboard” session, featuring my friends and colleagues Justin Levy from Citrix, Susan Beebe from Tyson Foods, Louis Gray from Google, and Maria Saltz from Adobe.


The job of a panel moderator can be difficult. Moderators need to keep the panel on track, keep the audience engaged, keep the speakers both in line and balanced, and keep energy high.

The worst panels are the ones that are boring. Lifeless. Filled with endless sales pitches. Panels where panelists disrespect each other and the audience.

I have two pet peeves about panels, however, which outweigh all the general negatives above.

Lengthy Introductions

The panels I hate most are ones in which panelists introduce themselves with a ten minute biography and sales pitch. We’ve all sat through those sessions – by the time the panelists are done, the session is half over.

The remedy? I simply read my panelists’ Twitter biographies aloud. Doing so was accurate, aligned nicely with the use of social media at the event, and had introductions over in less than a minute.

Moderator Ego

My greatest pet peeve, however, is the moderator who feels the need to speak more than the panelists. This is usually a weakness of a moderator who didn’t get a solo session. Ego takes over and the moderator interrupts panelists or takes 15 minutes to “set the table” by delivering a speech of their own.

What Makes a Good Moderator?

The panel moderator is the conductor of the orchestra. The conductor makes very, very little noise; a great conductor creates an environment in which the musicians shine, and most important, the music itself stands out. Audiences don’t come to panels for the people. Audiences come to panels on the premise that 2, 3, or more speakers will provide 2x, 3x, or greater multiples of useful information. The moderator’s job is to elicit this information (and the occasional bit of entertainment) so the audience receives the value they came for.

Ultimately, if a panel is bad, it’s the moderator’s fault. If you’re a moderator, think of yourself not as a speaker, but as the conductor of the orchestra. It’s your job to make the musicians shine – and if you’d rather be the musician, know that about yourself and don’t moderate panels.

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