The Golden Rule of Moderating a Great Panel

My very first panel after joining Mashable.

Great moderators all have one trait in common: they know that they aren’t there to be the show.

Since I joined Mashable, I’ve moderated my share of panels about media, technology or entrepreneurship. It’s taken me a few panels to get my style down, but now it’s like clockwork.

I’ve seen a lot of people fumble their panels. Sometimes it’s because they’re nervous, but most of the time it’s because they forget that they actually aren’t on the panel.

When you’re the moderator, your job isn’t to opine about the latest technology. Your job is to keep the panel lively and moving from subject to subject.

So here’s my golden rule for moderating great panels: Keep the show moving, but don’t be the show.

I say some of these things in e-mails I always send to my panelists in the days or weeks before a panel. I’m going to share the e-mail I recently sent to a panel I’m moderating next month. I hope you find it helpful in improving your moderating:

Hey everyone!

I’ll try to send a more detailed e-mail later with potential questions I’ll ask, but I just wanted to lay down my basic philosophy for panels.

– The audience came to see you, NOT me, so my role is to facilitate conversation rather than dominate it. I will keep things moving, keep the audience entertained when necessary, and cede most of the spotlight to you.

– Don’t go into long-winded answers — that’s how you lose audiences. If you’re going too long, I’m not afraid to cut you off (in a nice way, of course).

– I encourage debate and people to challenge what others are saying (feel free to politely interrupt someone). I won’t tolerate personal attacks of anybody, on or off the panel though.

– Remember, you’re here to both inform and entertain. Be lively.

– Most of all, have fun. If you have fun, the audience will have fun.