Moderator & Panelist Tips for a More Inclusive Event

In terms of creating an inclusive event, a supportive environment in which everyone feels and (hopefully) is able to participate, there are many things that people can do to to set the tone and set everyone up for success. Here are some of my suggestions for moderators and panelists.

Before the Panel

If you’re the moderator for a panel, DO prepare some questions and overarching themes to discuss. Communicate them ahead of time to the others speaking on your panel. DO give everyone a chance to evaluate the topics and feed you additional suggestions. DO find out if there’s a key question the participants want to answer during the panel.

DO communicate beforehand in email (or another text format) , if possible — that also gives folks a chance to translate the the conversation on their own time, if needed. Communicating in email ahead of time also helps those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Morally (and legally, in the EU), the event is obligated to only share email addresses after obtaining consent from participants, so this must be arranged ahead of time.

DON’T prep the content of the panel too much — you don’t want the panel to be stale or over before it’s begun! — but do put in the time to prepare beforehand. Your panelists and your audience will appreciate the benefit of this work.

DO prepare the expectations of others on the panel in terms of format, brief introductions, planned time allocation for Questions & Answers (Q&A), etc.

DO communicate with event organizers to make sure you know about any accessibility challenges or any technical logistics to take into account (microphones, projectors, methods of wheelchair access to the stage, induction loop equipment for those who are hard of hearing, translation services or logistics for translation, CART services, signed language interpretation services, etc.).

DO prepare a list of specialized terms that might come up in your panel which an interpreter or CART transcriber might need to know how to interpret or spell.

DO try to communicate with the interpreter ahead of time if the panel has an interpreter assigned. If the interpreter is there to provide translation for one panelist, that is a different scenario than if you also have audience members needing translation services. Knowing the logistics of the interpretation will help you better prepare for the event.

If you have an interpreter using a headset system from across the room, DO test the equipment prior to the start of the panel. The last thing you want is to have an equipment failure taking up time allocated to the discussion.

If the event has a Green Room, DO prepare the expectations of the others on the panel as to whether you’ll be willing or able to meet there beforehand in person. Not every event has one, and not every Green Room is accessible to everyone. Communicate proactively about this.

During the Panel

If at all possible, DO start on time. If you are missing a panelist at the start time, see if you can delegate looking for them to someone else in the room. If you are missing the moderator, discuss amongst the panelists who would be willing to take charge of moderation duties if needed.

DO use microphones if they are available for the event. Best practice is to have a microphone for each person speaking, including the moderator. Using the microphones means that audience members and those on the panel who are hard of hearing are more able to know what’s going on. DON’T ask the audience if it’s okay to not use the microphones — the likelihood is high that this will embarrass someone or that they won’t hear you asking the question. Just use the mic.

If there are insufficient microphones for the number of people speaking, DO make sure that everyone knows that they will have the opportunity to speak and also that it will be important to pass the microphone around frequently. You may also need to remind others to do so during the panel. If there are no microphones, you may need to encourage people to speak up in order to be heard.

DO start the panel by preparing the expectations of the audience. Tell people at the beginning whether there will be a Q&A segment at the end, or if you will take questions during the course of the panel. (I recommend the former, personally.)

DO introduce the topic of the panel briefly (in case someone is in the wrong room, if nothing else), introduce yourself, and invite the panelists to briefly introduce themselves. You can tell them to keep it to about 30 seconds if you’re concerned about the time.

DON’T reveal personal information about panelists (or anyone else in the room) that could be considered private, such as sexuality, race, religion, class, or other information. This is why I suggest everyone should introduce themselves.

In the introductions, DO give your own personal pronouns if you’re comfortable doing so, and ask your panelists to give theirs. This normalizes respect for people whose pronouns might not be obvious by guessing (a topic of personal importance to me), and enables people to refer to each other on the panel accurately.

DO thank the interpreter for their service if you have a good moment to do so. DON’T draw inappropriate attention to the interpreter by asking that words be translated for you to be “funny.” Interpretation is an accessibility tool, not something to be made fun of.

DO address your conversation to the panelist whose expertise brought them onto the panel, rather than addressing conversation to the interpreter.

DO wait patiently for the interpreter to translate the conversation, including periods of pause if that seems to help keep everyone on the same page. DON’T show signs of boredom or impatience during this process — that is disrespecting the panelist as well as the interpreter, and your audience will pick up on such things.

DON’T let one panelist talk very long without pause or interruption. The point of a panel is dialogue. If you need to make sure that everyone participates, it’s okay to do so explicitly. For example, you can say, “Thank you, X. We haven’t heard from Y on this topic — what would you like to add, Y?”

If you are able to, DO periodically look at the other panelists and/or the audience during the conversation. This is a sign of respect in many cultures, and looking at the other panelists (instead of your phone, for example) helps aim the attention of others where you are looking. You are signaling where people should give their attention.

During the Q&A period, DO remind audience members that you seek questions, not rambling comments or statements. Questions end with a question mark, and continue the conversation amongst the panelists.

If there is no microphone for the Q&A, DO repeat or rephrase the question asked. This helps make sure that the panelists are answering the question asked, and also encourages people to phrase questions succinctly.

During a Q&A, DON’T call on audience members by presuming to know their gender, race, or other aspects of a person that are private. DON’T call on “the Black woman in the back” or “the man in the wheel chair.” DO use identifying markers such as color of clothing or location within the room, such as “the person in blue up front,” or “the person with the red hat who’s waving vigorously.”

During a Q&A, I also suggest that you DON’T call on audience members by name, even if you may know someone personally. That potentially gives others in the audience the impression that knowing a panelist increases your odds of being called on.

DO end the panel (including Q&A) on time, per whatever instructions you received from event organizers. Usually, the custom is to have 10 or 15 minutes of open time in between items on a program, in case people need to go to a different room and/or need a bio break.

After the Panel

DO make sure that you and other speakers leave the stage and the room in a timely fashion.

DON’T linger in the room after the panel, as this might impinge on the next program item starting on time.

If you wish to encourage more discussion after the panel, DO suggest that people speak in the hallway outside and/or over email.

DO give feedback to the event staff, if there’s something you feel they should know about the physical space or anything that happened during your panel.


Do you have more suggestions? Feel free to comment below!

(I hope these notes are helpful to those speaking any language at events. This post delves specifically into speaker, moderator, and panelist tips, but there are many other aspects of an event that can be addressed to make it more inclusive and welcoming and accessible on intersectional axes.)

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