Everything in Moderation

Want to get more recognition in business? How about agreeing to be on a panel, either at a company meeting or an association conference? By volunteering, you position yourself as someone who has something to say and is willing to say it. But if you want even more attention, be the moderator. It's no cakewalk, but here are four steps to help you, and your panel, have a real impact on your audience.

1. Think "Ensemble"

Today's best moderators do much more than just introduce the topic and keep the presenters in order. They function as directors, creating a stimulating environment, engaging the actors, and stage-managing the experience. They don't let panelists become "talking heads" who make individual speeches one after the other. They get everyone on the panel involved, jumping in when they agree or disagree, so that the show becomes not individual presenters but the ensemble.

2. Prepare the Panelists

Well before the actual event, make sure panelists know they don't have to make speeches, because this is a discussion among peers. Give them the general topics to be covered but not specific questions. And encourage them not to wait for you to bring them into the discussion—they're there because they have something important to say, so they shouldn't be afraid to jump into the mix a bit.

3. Master the Segue

Good moderators know how to range over different topics and move easily between panelists. It's OK to keep a notepad handy with a series of sample segues on it like, "John, you just heard Mary say . . . Does this square with your experience?" Or "Several of you seem to agree that . . . Does anyone have a different view?" Or "Alex, give us the real lowdown on . . . " If someone is monopolizing the discussion, segue with "Phil, that's a great point. Let me ask Tony if he's on the same page."

4. Involve the Audience

This is probably the biggest development in panel discussions nowadays. Of course, you spend time initially with just the panel, but you should bring in the rest of the house sooner rather than later. Ordinary people's perspectives are almost always interesting and helpful. In order to facilitate the discussion, place yourself between the panel and the audience, so you can work the room the way TV talk show hosts do. Be prepared, though—to effectively unleash this torrent, you need to be both a top cop and a skilled diplomat.

To really stand out in business, get on a panel. Better yet, lead one. Follow these suggestions and you'll make a real scene at your next meeting.