Everyone thinks panel discussions are easy. I disagree. Here’s what I’ve noticed makes for a better panel (psst, they are mostly pretty simple!):

5. Do your homework. The best moderators are interested and well informed. If you can’t set aside at least an hour of research per panelist, don’t be the moderator. As an audience member, anything less is really just kind of disrespectful 🙂

4. Don’t make the panel about you. Nobody cares that you spend the weekend in Lake Tahoe with your semi-famous panelist. Seriously, you’re embarrassing yourself.

3. Don’t ask more than one panelist the same question. You don’t want to turn the discussion into a, “and now it is your turn” situation. Ask one person, one question, give the person a chance to respond and let everyone else join in. You know, like you do around the dinner table.

2. Encourage audience participation, but don’t let the audience take over. If there is amazing discussion amongst the panelists at any given moment, keep it going. People paid to hear the panelists, not the next audience question (which will probably involve some type of pitch, anyway). Having said that, don’t be afraid to include the audience if things are slowing down. One great question can foster all kinds of discussion.

1. Ask the John Batelle question, “What’s next?” Dude, it is two words, you can’t master that? So simple, yet usually fosters the most interesting discussion. Works for pretty much any panel on any topic, as well. 

**adding to this post (May 25th, 2009). If you are interested in the Topic, check out what Jeremy Owyang has to say about it. His is more comprehensive.