I'm a big fan of allowing at least 50 percent of the panel time for questions. It's the best way to make sure your audience isn't dissatisfied by the end of the session...and often, it's the last thing that speakers think about. So it falls to the moderator to make it happen. Here are more tips for keeping questions fair and frequent:
- Have some starter questions or follow-up questions in your back pocket: If the audience is slow to speak up or there's an obvious gap in an answer, make sure you jump in with a question of your own. You'll find several creative lines of questioning in my ebook, linked below.
- Alternate calling on men and women: Both male and female leaders call on men more frequently. Create some balance by alternating genders when you are calling on audience members.
- Move around the room: Don't just call on the people waggling their hands furiously in the front row. Call on people in the back, middle, and on the sides, so all can see they have a fairer chance of getting a question in edgewise. And don't call on the same person twice.
- If there are a lot of questions, batch them: Let's say one person asks a question about an important aspect of the topic, and you can see others with their hands still up, or looking as if there's more to say on that score. You can pause the speakers and say, "If there are other questions on this specific topic, let's hear them all now before the panel responds." Feel free to put off questioners who use this opening to ask something off-topic.
- Call on statement-makers to ask a question: Take a leaf from the book of call-in radio show hosts and interrupt a long-winded statement-maker with, "May we have your question?" If there isn't one, say, "Thanks, then, for sharing those thoughts. It's a big issue," and move on with a "Next question?"
Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.