Technique for panel moderators: recovering message from a run-of-the-mouth panelist

It’s game time! …You and your fellow panelists are ready up front; your microphones are hot. You feel fired-up as panel moderator, having guided your panelists for days to isolate core themes + messages. It starts off GREAT with your audience. Their eyes lock on your panelist colleagues (NOT on their phones, a miracle!). But then as you take an in-breath to progress next questions, you full-stop. Because you realize one of your panelists continues to go on and on.

Your (well-meaning but unaware) panelist lacks conversational or thematic awareness at this point.

They sound like a mouth-gone-auto-pilot. You may even be a little baffled since what seems like only minutes ago, useful ideas were clearly being expressed by this person, with engaged support from other panelists. But now they articulate in what comes across as stream of consciousness with zero sense of punctuated thought. It is derailing your panel’s overall focus. The audience noticeably withdraws …leaning back in chairs toward distant places on their phones.

This type of runaway output often occurs by well-meaning panel voices who likely have not spent enough time consolidating thoughts pre-event, or are more nervous in the presence of the audience than what they anticipated.

Whatever the reason for their runaway funk, you can empower yourself as panel moderator to re-assert direction. That’s core to your leadership role since as moderator -you are the protector- of the audience’s calibre of experience.

I like to call this dialogue tactic ‘the featured ask’ which entails three quick bits:

  1. Interrupt your runaway panelist — with sample as: “Pardon me Alyssa, I need us to pause a second…”
  2. Assert time constraint — with sample as: “We need to begin next questions given our time…”
  3. Then invite the panelist for one more concluding assertion before moving on, and emphasize thematic relevance to get discourse back on track for the audience — sample as:

“Alyssa what is the most important insight you want our audience to hear right now about (insert theme at hand here) before we move on?”

This dialogue management technique is especially apt for a few reasons: it stops the runaway panelist’s spew; it creates a succinct chance to honor this panelist’s intended insight one final time for the given theme/question at hand; and it gives you as moderator opportunity to recover thematic relevance again before next parts of your run-of-show unfold.

Image Runaway Train by Terrence Faircloth, Creative Commons License

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