A lot of moderators ask vague questions.

Q: Can you introduce yourself? (Always terrible)

Q: Can you tell me about your approach to X? (Results in a rambling answer)

Q: How do you see this issue? (Inevitably leads to unfocused response)

To deliver more value for audiences, moderators and interviewers should think about how questions can be more specific.

By narrowing the field of possible answers, the audience can get more value.

Take the subject of Hydrogen as a new energy source. Vague questions might include:

Q: Tell me your thoughts on Hydrogen

Q: Do you think Hydrogen will be important in the transition?  

Q: What is your company’s involvement with Hydrogen?

Depending on how well they have been trained, panelists may be able to give engaging answers to these. But there’s a high probability of mini-speeches without an actual point. Then the energy hisses out of the room…

So instead, a moderator might consider:

Q: Will we ever get to $1/kg for Green Hydrogen?

Q: In 50 years will all trucks run on Hydrogen?

Q: Are Hydrogen Hubs the only viable business model?

Q: What’s the ONE thing that investors will need to see to commit to funding Hydrogen projects?

By getting specific, you create something more valuable. It’s harder for the speakers to ramble on and just promote their own businesses.

Of course, panelists may need to be briefed in advance about such questions. They might not be able to talk directly about price or market predictions. If so, then fine. At least you’ve tried.

I think great panels are a mixture of the Big Picture and Tight Focus. You don’t want to get lost in a thicket of detail. But nor do you want to be all wishy-washy.

You may need to be up at 30,000 feet to frame the big idea. Then you need to dive down into the specifics, to avoid pointless horizon-gazing.

The specifics are trickier for the panelists. But often more interesting for the audience. As the moderator, you have to get the right balance.

Go through the questions in advance and ask yourself: will this just invite speakers to paint the sky? Or could I get them to fill in some key elements of detail on the ground?

Then, with luck, you avoid yet another Panel of Platitudes with no real Points.

I’ve trained hundreds of executives to moderate panels and appear as panelists. If you are interested in Moderator Training or Speaker Coaching, please email me at mike(at)sergeantconsulting.com     

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Mike Sergeant


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