Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

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5 Tips on being a great moderator

I happened to bump into Guy Kawasaki at Blog World Expo and decided to check out his mantra on how to be a good moderator before my corporate blogging panel on Sunday. Good thing I did, since I was able to adopt many of the best practices Guy recommends.

Guy Kawasaki at Blog World Expo 2008

Guy Kawasaki at Blog World Expo 2008 (Source: Guy's blog)

Here’s what I learned from Guy:

1. Don’t over-prepare the panelists: Point taken. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even talk about the panel when we met the previous day. Having said that, I’d make a couple of recommendations:

a. brainstorm with your panel on the topic well in advance and come up with key themes. We actually came up with the “7 Habits”, over 2 weeks in advance

b. brief the panelists a few minutes before the discussion on the direction of the panel. That’s basically to alert them of areas that may surprise them. For e.g. letting them give their 30 second intro, breaking eye contact with them (refer #4 below), etc…

Never let them be surprised. Again, you’ve got to watch out for your panelists.

2. Do prepare yourself in advance: After reading Guy say – “moderating a panel is deceptively hard” I left no stone unturned. Plus, I wasn’t helping myself with an Apple style (less words & bullet points) slide show which meant it was important for my words to have both precision and clarity without any rambling (which trust me, will happen when you don’t prepare).

I felt guilty that I didn’t party the night before (it was a Saturday) in Vegas, but hey, as Guy says: “moderating is a complex activity” and it’s worth preparing for it.

3. Let the panelists introduce themselves in 30 seconds: Rather than the moderator read out the panelists’ bio (which is an embarrassingly painful process), let the panelists introduce themselves in 30 seconds. Loved the idea.

This way I didn’t mispronounce their names or miss an important achievement of theirs. However, I misspelled Tom’s name on the opening slide, which I remedied before the start. So, don’t forget to spell check your panelists names when you add it to the first slide.

4. Break eye contact with the panelists: This was tougher than it seemed. I did make it a point to look at the panelists while asking questions but then I turned towards the audience. But I felt the best thing to do at that point was to take notes. Why? If you’re a blogger, it comes in real handy while writing a post on the panel but more importantly, it helps you structure the discussion flow in a much better way.

5. Make everyone else look smart: Absolutely. This panel was about the best practices that Lionel, Nicki, Carolyn & Tom had learned during the past couple of years and their conversation with the audience. As Guy recommends, my focus was to steer the discussion and I must have only spent 5 – 10% of the time talking.

Also, we allowed for nearly 10 minutes for questioning (in a 45 minute panel), which is roughly ~23% of the allocated time. That’s pretty close to the 30% recommended by Guy.

And, Guy, you were right. Moderating a panel could be deceptively hard, and I’m glad I found that out before I took the stage. And, looks like it may have worked

Filed under: Miscellaneous

5 Responses

  1. Bob Woods says:

    I’ve moderated quite a few panels in my professional life, and all of these are spot-on.

    One thing I like to do (if it is available at the venue) is to roam the audience with a wireless microphone to take questions — a-la Phil Donohue. This draws the audience in even more, since the moderator becomes one of “them.” It also forces the panel members to speak to the audience, rather than look at the chained-to-the-podium moderator. I do this after the introductions, though.

    If wireless isn’t available, I remind the panelists to speak to the audience when answering all questions (even mine).


  2. Phil says:

    Bonus points for avoiding the long-winded speaker bios during the introduction. Reading the bio that’s already in the conference program kills the panel before you start.


  3. Mario Sundar says:


    Great suggestion on walking among the audience. Instills a greater sense of participation.


    Definitely, asking the panelists to introduce themselves is a good idea.


  4. Some good points here. Yes, moderating well is much more complicated than it appears when it is done well. I’ve posted my ideas culled from 29 years doing this, in “What’s the value of a master moderator?” at

    Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC


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