20 tips for sparkling success as a panel chair

Penny Haslam Panel Discussions - The Ultimate Guide - By Penny Haslam

20 tips for sparkling success as a panel chair

Success as a panel chair

Success as a panel chair. When I ran my first ever panel discussion, I wasn’t sure exactly what the job entailed. It’s not like anyone’s going to tell you and it’s not written down anywhere official. So all too often it’s left to chance. I had a go, it went well and I realised it’s one of the most enjoyable elements of my job as a professional event host and moderator because I love asking questions.

Yay! Go me! However, it wouldn’t have gone well had I not been super prepared. And that’s the point of this blog.

I thought it would be useful for those tasked with chairing panels to understand the remit, as this role is what you make it. Before the list, there are number of reasons why you might find yourself in the hot seat in the first place:

  • Your boss was meant to do it, but now can’t be bothered, so has ‘asked’ you to do it.
  • You’re a sponsor at the event, or in some way involved, and the organiser wants to repay your kindness, so you get recognition.
  • You’re the host or moderator of the event and it’s part of your remit.

Whatever the circumstances for finding yourself as the person asking the questions and driving the discussion, I would recommend you take it seriously and OWN IT!

Although you’re the person asking the questions there are opportunities to input with your knowledge, experience and passion too and this is really welcomed by audiences, because they love it when you’ve got intelligent things to say and therefore aren’t just chopped meat with a list of questions to plough through.

20 things you need to do, based on yonks of successful experience as a panel chair:

Before the event

  • Liaise with the event organiser and panellists.
  • Help to decide themes and interesting areas for discussion, based on the panellists’ areas of expertise.
  • Structure and script the whole thing, including timings, panellists’ introductions and questions to help drive the chat.
  • Attend a meeting, or conference call with panellists.
  • Do a bit of social media retweeting/sharing about the event.

On the day

  • Be a leader.
  • Deal with the AV team on the day/handling mics.
  • Encourage rapport and energy from the panellists.
  • Expect the unexpected.

During the discussion

  • Mention housekeeping (social media info, fire alarms, toilets).
  • Establish the over-arching theme, at the start of the discussion start, so the audience knows what they’re going to get and so they will listen.
  • Introduce the panellists.
  • Ask the questions and keeping it going.
  • Move it on when a topic is running out of steam and/or there are other topics to get onto.
  • Make sure everyone has a fair share of the time.
  • Keep the discussion going.
  • Keep it running on time.
  • Facilitate the Q&A section.
  • Manoeuvre the handheld mic runner to the next questioner in the audience, through a series of eye darts, head nods and gestures.
  • Wrap up the discussion with thank-yous and close off the event or ‘hand back’ the stage to another person.

Teams that shine when they take part in panel discussions put their organisation at an immediate advantage.


Panel Discussions is the ultimate guide to moderating and appearing on panel discussions. 

  • Prepare for success and drive a dynamic panel discussion, as a moderator.
  • Confidently share your expertise and insight as a relatable and memorable panellist.
  • Engage your audience and speak so people listen, both from the stage and through the camera lens.

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