A couple of months ago I was approached by a soon-to-be conference panel moderator who asked if I had some tips. Having attended a fair number of conferences and having moderated panels, debates, and meetings in both politics, web development, and several other professional settings, I had a fair bit to say.
For conference newbies it may be surprising to learn that panels are quite controversial, and for good reason. Panels are often the fallback option when you have multiple speakers pitching the same topic, panels can become the place a conference chooses to stack women speakers in an attempt to bring up the gender ratio, and panels are often poorly prepared, executed, and moderated leading to boredom or catastrophe, sometimes all at the same time.
Much has been said about how to organize and moderate panels at conferences and I don’t purport to be an expert on the topic. What I do have is extensive experience dealing with politicians, clients, and people who can’t agree on anything, and I have accumulated a wide range of tools and skills to coax a conversation towards a chosen goal. And these tools and skills have proven invaluable in when moderating a conference panel.
So here, mostly unedited from my original email, is my Simple Guide to Conference Panel Moderation: