Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pitching Posits and Problems to a Panel of Experts Pumps Up Your Profile

Photo by Ed Lefkowicz /

Moderating a select panel of speakers who focus on specific business issues is a fun and effective way to accelerate your visibility and image among your peers, clients and industry.

The role of the moderator is like a Master of Ceremonies; to steward the event from opening statements, introducing the panelists, asking insightful questions, running the Q&A, summarizing the main points, and finally, to closing the event.

Recently I was honored to moderate a business panel in NYC that included three entrepreneurs whose businesses were at different stages. The event was “Three Keys to Success,” and was organized by attorney Scott Eisenberg, president and founder of Swap the Biz, a business networking group for high-level professionals. 

The speakers were: Charles Ferri, Founder and CEO of Star Vodka, MJ Pedone, Founder and CEO of indra public relations, and René Rofé, Founder and CEO of International Intimates Inc.
As a moderator, you are not the main speaker, but you do run the show, so it’s important to do your homework and prepare what you are going to say. Here are some tips that will help you become a successful panel moderator:

  1. Choose speakers with diverse views and experiences. Diversity also includes gender, age and culture that reflect the make-up of the audience.

  1. Pre-interview the members of the panel. This gives you a sense of how comfortable they are at answering questions. Depending on their experience and their nature, some may need more encouragement than others.
  1. Prepare your panel. Send the speakers an agenda that includes how the panel is going to be formatted, some sample open-ended questions and how much time they have to speak. Ask them for a short bio that you will use to introduce them. (Practice your introductions and be sure to check the pronunciation of their names and businesses.)
  1. Know your audience. What levels of experience does your audience have in the subject? What information will make a difference to them? What do they need to know that they don’t know now, have overlooked or forgotten?
  1. Have an opening that sets the theme and focus of the panel. Despite your best efforts, there will be people attending the event that have no idea what the panelists are going to talk about. Part of the job of the moderator is to focus the audience on the objectives and desired outcomes of the panel. Your opening is the first of two “bookends” that frame the panel.
  1. Use technology. Asking people to turn off their cell phones in a meeting is often a futile effort. However, during “Three Keys to Success” we adopted an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach by offering the attendees an alternative to using their cell phones. Each audience member was issued a device that looked like a Blackberry that allowed them to text in answers to survey questions and pitch questions to the panelists. The device was provided by IML Worldwide and was a useful addition to the event.
  1. Keep the speakers on topic. Sometimes speakers can go off on tangents and it’s the moderator’s job to gently nudge them back to the topic. How to tactfully interrupt? Interject a question like: “Could you give us an example?” or “How would you apply that to a specific case?”  Also let them know when it’s their time to finish their answer by giving them a simple hand signal or standing up and showing that you are ready to introduce the next speaker or ask the next question.
  1. Repeat questions from the audience. This is a way to ensure that everyone hears the question and gives the speaker a few extra seconds to consider his or her answer.
  1. At the end of the presentation ask the attendees for their “take-aways.” “What did you get from these speakers? How did it help you? What are you going to do with the information?”  This is a way of summarizing some of the key points of the presentation as well as getting more audience interaction.

  1. Close the program with the key points that really drive home the fact that you have answered the main questions that brought people to the event. Your final statement provides the second “bookend” that brings the panel to a conclusion and gives the presentation a memorable conclusion.

11.  Photograph and video record your event.  Extend the impact of your panel by  posting photos and video of it on your website, blog and via social media.

12.  Write about the panel on your blog or in your company’s newsletter.  Share the highlights and “take-aways” from your panelists for those who couldn’t attend.

One last bit of advice: Don’t forget to thank the speakers, event sponsors and the attendees for coming to listen to your panel.

Need help creating a presentation, moderating a panel or organizing and writing your self-help book or book proposal? Contact Don at 718-768-0824 or for more information. 

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