How to Moderate a Panel

Panels are a staple of both online and irl conventions, and boy do us gamers like to talk about our hobby. One of the key parts of a successful panel is a great moderator, and I polled the G+ gaming community to find out who the best ones were. Lowell Francis, Andrea G, Rich Rogers, Stacy Dellorfano, and John Stavropoulos were all kind enough to share their techniques on running a successful panel.

How did you get started moderating panels? Why do you do it? Why should other people?

I Hit It With My Axe reunion panel Moderator Stacy Dellorfano 2013
I Hit It With My Axe reunion panel Moderator Stacy Dellorfano 2013

Lowell: I wanted to get smart people together to talk about topics I was interested in. I think crucially you must be interested in what your panelists have to say. Gamers like to talk about gaming, so it offers a great chance to draw out all kinds of advice and insights.

Andrea: I was suckered into it for Virtuacon ‘14!  There was a mix up, people were panicking, and I wanted to help out a friend.  It was definitely quite the experience: it gave me an appreciation for people who moderate panels on a regular basis.  There’s a lot of work that goes into these things that participants and viewers don’t get to see.

Rich: I started moderating panels for Indie+ when they transitioned from doing online cons to #gamenights. I wanted to contribute to the effort and I’ve been talking to individual folks on my Canon Puncture podcast for years. I figured moderating a panel was close enough to that work that I could fake it until I could make it work.

I like talking to smart people about my most favorite hobby. I also like the frenetic activity behind doing a panel, being live and “on camera” and keeping things moving. It’s a craft. I like doing this stuff. If you like juggling conversations and being a talky GM, you might dig moderating a panel.

Stacy: I was actually asked to do one for Indie+ on Hangout Gaming because I’d been running my Changeling campaign Steam & Crumpets On Air for a few months, had played in several online games, and had become a pretty big champion of online gaming. I have no idea why I did it. It sounded like something fun to do, I liked the topic, and I wanted to talk to the other cool people I knew who ran and played in hangout games.

Why should other people? Because you get to talk to people like you about something really cool, and on top of that you get to do it in front of an audience who can ask more questions than the ones you alone can think up.

John: Ajit George asked me to moderate the Gaming As Other panel at Metatopia. The audience was large, the panelist many, the opinions divergent, the questions intense, topic hugely important, and time short. Professionally I lead intense high stakes creative and client meetings, I love GMing games, and I've run multiple communities and conventions. Given that, moderation was a smooth fit. I personally enjoy helping ensure constructive voices all have an equal opportunity to be heard, compensating for any panelist challenges, accentuating strengths, getting out of the way as much as possible, and I'm happy to use my experience and privilege to minimize problems before they happen or step up if they do.

Moderation can be a thankless job. Part of your challenge is to become invisible till you are needed. The spotlight is not on you and in all likelihood you aren't being compensated. Often most people won't even realize all the work you are doing to help. So why do it? If you love panels, and I do, I want to be part of the solution. To be the change. So I volunteer. Do it because you want to. Do it because as an audience member or as a panelist yourself you recognize what a benefit your efforts will make.

Any advice on picking a topic?

Lowell: I enjoy more open or dynamic topics- differences of opinions, multiple approaches, and/or unusual possibilities. I think panels are best when they aren’t just inventories or some version of “let me tell you about my character/campaign.” We often focus on the GM side of things so consider how to bring player perspectives in. Topic that invite concrete advice often get a strong positive response.

Also, don’t be afraid to hit evergreen topics.

Andrea: Talk to your panelists and viewers to find out what kinds of topics they’re interested in.  It will make the conversation more relevant and the panelists more passionate.

Rich: I try to keep the topics timely. Is there a holiday or event coming up? Why not pick a topic for a panel related to it, since it’s on people’s mind. While there are some pitfalls if you are thinking only of American holidays, if you’re clever, you can find ways to make it more universal.

Or, is there a burning issue out there on RPG fora or G+ or Twitter? Why not grabs some folks who are on different sides and let them talk about their viewpoints?

Stacy: Don’t pick something you already know inside and out. Sit on a panel to talk about your favorite subject. Moderate to learn more about a subject that interests you. You’ll be more interested in the conversation, ask better questions, and you’ll avoid the sin of being too opinionated as a moderator.

John: Be timely and relevant. Scan blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, and G+. See what's trending. Distill the issue to its core, make it accessible, explain what problem you want to solve, whose problem, and why. Start with why. If I must choose between topics I will aim for content that is most broadly relevant or content that is underrepresented.

Is there a structure you aim for, or some way to roughly divide up how to spend your time?

Lowell: Like most I start with a quick introduction of the panelists. If I don’t know them as well,  I let the group introduce themselves. I usually open with the survey question I’ve primed the panelists for. I’ve gotten good results by telling participants what question we’ll specifically open with. After that we bounce around topics, but starting them on the same page allows them a good first impression. It also gives me an excuse to move around to everyone individually and set that pattern for later.

I try to wrap up earlier than my gut tells me. Ideally I move to the finish with ten to fifteen minutes left for a couple of reasons. One, people have room for their final thoughts and extra comments on the final thoughts of others. Two, people have to get to other things, and they’ll be happier if you give them time.

Andrea: I’m not a big fan of structure in general -- I prefer my panels to be a natural conversation with minimal input from the moderator.  I do want to keep both my audience and panelists in mind, though, so I start the panel off by explaining what we’re going to talk about.

Rich: For Indie+ (and the Virtuacon panels I’ve moderated), I crowd-source for questions that fall within the topic of the panel. I do this about a week ahead of the panel and it serves the purpose of

  1. Doing lots of the work for me since I can ask some questions that are obvious, but many more folks are more engaged or smarter than I and they will suggest nooks and crannies I hadn’t considered
  2. It serves as a form of advertising, too! If you asked a question ahead of the event, chances are that you’ll tune in to hear them answer it.

As long as I have 15 or so questions, I’ll transition to my question guru (Paul Edson is magical at this). If I don’t have enough, then I’ll ask others to reshare my request for questions or I’ll do it myself.

I touch base with all the panelists three days ahead of the panel, give them a Tips and Tricks prompt, link them to the questions and make sure they’re still on board.

Day of, I try to do one last check-in. Then, I’m on 15 minutes early. I run the panel until an hour or we seem done, then I thank the panelists and work on after-the-fact publicity.

Stacy: I like my panels to be pretty conversational, so I keep the structure fairly simple. I introduce the panel, introduce the members of the panel, then I like to have an opening question and a closing question. Something that starts the conversation, and something that ends the conversation… hopefully on a thoughtful note.

John: Treat the panel like both a performance and a team sport.

By performance, keep the audience in mind. Keep points short, relevant, and clear. Be accessible. Review questions. Summarize. Clarify any confusion. By team sport, keep the spotlight moving. Imagine spotlight is a ball. Keep passing the ball. Don't just let loud people dominate.

When structure is unnecessary, get out of the way.

I liken structure to game systems. A goal of system is to provide a specific experience. Know what experience you want. If that experience is naturally occurring, then let it naturally occur. If that experience requires direction, then direct.

What do you do to get ready?

Lowell: I usually do a sheet of topic ideas. Unanswered questions and general thoughts which might be good to discuss. I’ll post those for panel participants and invite other suggestions. I make clear we aren’t going to hit all or even most of those topics. I try not to do too much prep. Most of that’s in case we end up with dead air. It also shows participants the general shape of the discussion. That can be important if the topic’s phrased generally. Just like my prep for a game, I sketch things and don’t worry if most of it doesn’t get used.

If I have time, I hunt around and find things out about the panelists- more than I already know.

Andrea: I introduce the panelists to the topic and ask if there’s anything in particular they’d like to talk about, and then I organize the topics into one handy document for everyone to look at.  Again, I want to make sure we’re covering the areas the panelists are actually interested in so that they’re engaged and excited to be there.

Rich: What I did for many panels was try to group questions into headings or types, so that questions would seem less random and have more of a conversational flow (this was something I picked up from Meg Baker and Emily Care Boss). I’ve recently asked for help from a couple of more organized friends who are really great at shaping and even tweaking slightly the questions we have. I add them all to a Google doc that I share with the panelists at least three days ahead of the panel.

I also share with the panelists a few paragraphs’ worth of Tips and Tricks for Being on a Panel.

I gather panelists 10-15 minutes ahead of time to work through any tech issues they might have and also to chat with them, get a gauge on how they’re feeling, try to lighten the mood.

Then, we go live (usually 5-10 minutes late, which annoys me but I’d rather have a panel ready to go than a panel on time with nervous or missing folks). I read the questions ahead of time. But, I also have the Q&A feature on, so I’ve come to accept that I may end up with some questions out of left field, too.

Stacy: I spend some time with the subject and the people involved. When I did the ‘I Hit It With My Axereunion panel, I spent time watching all of the shows. Questions popped into my head as I was watching, and I wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget them.

Each subject is slightly different, so I do different things to prepare. I try to do this preparation as close to the time of the panel as possible, as well. It helps to have the subject really fresh on your mind.

John: Talk to your panelists. Find out who they are. Who is knowledgeable about what. Who is quiet. Who is loud. Ask them what they are nervous about. What they want help with. What one thing they want to communicate. Explain your moderations style. If there is a style conflict, negotiate a win win for everyone involved.

How do you ask someone to be on a panel? Any advice on how to figure out who you want?

Lowell: Just ask, but have a sense of what time you’ll be looking at. That’s often the first question you get. Scheduling can be a bear, especially for online panels (ironically). I’ll often ask if they can suggest other people, even if they can’t make it. G+ is great for this since people can tag in others.

Andrea: I was very lucky in that most of my panelists came to me.  I did post a general call for panelists along with the topic.  Those I specifically wanted, I just e-mailed, described the topic, and buttered them up.  Everyone was really, really nice about it, which made it a lot less stressful for me.  Most of the people on my panel were friends that I knew would make great contributions.

Rich: I’m lucky enough to have a “stable” of awesome gamers who’ve been on panels or whom I’ve chatted with before. They’re easy, I just ask. But, I try very hard to be inclusive, so I make sure I have as many people from different walks of life that I can. New viewpoints are always fascinating to me. I also try to bring in at least one new person to a panel, somebody I don’t know who might have a great time and join my ever-growing stable of amazingness.

For the new folks, I have a pitch that I use. I clearly indicate

  1. The topic of the panel I want to moderate
  2. The time and date (use timezone and day of week along with day, month, year)
  3. The expected length of the panel
  4. The need for the panelist to have a webcam and mic and that the panel will be live and recorded for YouTube
  5. I’ll be crowd-sourcing questions and will provide them to the panelist ahead of the panel, but I also may get some live questions AND I may ask follow-up questions based on panelist answers to foster conversation
  6. I tell them WHY I want them on the panel (you’re really great at X, or I saw a post where you talked about Y). I’m pretty complimentary
  7. Then I close with: Are you interested?

If they have questions, I do my very best to answer them as soon as possible and as fully, with expectation that they may have very little interest or some worry about the panel or don’t know who the heck I am.

Stacy: I just ask people. I tell them when the panel is, what it’s about, and ask the if they’d like to join. If they can’t, I ask them if they know someone else that might be able to also speak on the subject. If I don’t know enough people to fill a panel, I hit up social media and ask around for recommendations.

I also try to keep a list of people who are available to chat on various subjects, especially if I’ve been on a panel with them before, and find them good speakers on their subjects. It helps to not have to brainstorm a new list every time a panel idea comes up.

John: I send out a general call and invite specific people.

Who I invite depends on my goals. Everyone should have relevant experience. Additionally I will both aim to feature someone with drawing power to bring in audience interest and someone else with an underrepresented voice or unique perspective. Then there is a question of chemistry between panelists. Do you want personalities that build on each other? Do you want perspectives that conflict or escalate? Establish clear goals. Pick panelists that best serve those goals.

How do you keep the conversation on track? And how do you segue to the next subject?

Lowell: Instinct and keeping an ear out for repetition of ideas. I cut topics short to keep the pace up. Again that’s a habit from GMing. If you reserve your comments for moderation signals (let’s move on to X, what does Y think), then when you make those moves they’re clearer.

If you’re doing an online panel, make use of the chat function. You can send a message giving the group a heads up that you’re about to change up or call on someone.

Andrea: Gentle nudging.  When that failed, I chided a bit and reminded our panelists (in what I think was a friendly manner) that we do have a topic to discuss.  That’s the moderator’s job: make sure people’s minds don’t wander too far from the matter at hand.  I think everyone understood that, so they were very cooperative.  For the most part, I let the panelists do the segue for me.  That’s the benefit to the conversational panel!

Rich: I am kind of awful at interrupting people. It tears a piece of my soul to cut someone off knowingly. I use the text chat in the Hangout window to ask if folks have something to add, that often prompts folks to give up their turn pretty well. As for transitioning, I just move along. I use some reflexive thing like “Cool” or “Okay”, which is a cue that I’m going to take us somewhere else. I wish I were more eloquent, but it works.

As we’re moving along, I keep a mental score of who’s talking. Is someone not talking? I lead off with them on the next question, or I’ll redirect something to them that someone else said on the panel. I’ll even suggest they jump in on the text chat in the Hangout to make sure they’re heard. I want equal time from the panelists. I CHOSE them for this panel. I invited them and I want to hear from all of them.

Stacy: I’ve never had a whole lot of problem keeping the whole thing on track. I like my panels to be fairly conversational, so I do my best to avoid cutting people off or breaking off a conversation. If the conversation is interesting, I let it go until there’s a natural break in the discussion, or it seems like it’s time to change subjects.

John: Talk with your panelists. Find out how they want you to let them know when to wrap up or focus. I like using non-verbal hand signals. In terms of segues, set up the next panelist. Pick someone who hasn't spoken in a while with relevant experience and then say something like, "X person given your Y experience, what do you think about Z thing (that we just said) focusing on N perspective."

Do you figure out an agenda beforehand, and if so, do you stick to it?

Lowell: I have a list of general topics and usually an opener. Other than that I try to go with the flow. You won’t get to everything. Save the rest for a sequel or blog post.

Andrea: Sort of?  I group my topics together in what feels to me like a natural order on paper, but if the conversation jumps around, I think that’s absolutely fine.

Rich: Yes, my agenda is my questions. I use it as a guide, but I will drop a question if it’s been covered by a different discussion and I’ll also cue up.

Stacy: I have a very loose agenda that I use. Some form of introduction - either with the panelists introducing themselves, or myself introducing them, then a question to start on that’ll get the discussion going. I often like to also pick a good question to end out the panel - something that might help tie the whole thing together.

For the middle parts, though, I like to listen to where the discussion is going and branch off questions for there. I keep a short list of questions / topics in case the conversation slows down, but by and large I like listening to the panelists, drilling into what they have to say with questions, and keeping the panel going in a conversational manner. If there are audience questions, I try to sprinkle them throughout (something you can do in a hangouts environment that you can’t do in a face-to-face environment).

John: Set clear goals. By the end, people listening should walk away with X. Communicate that goal to the panelists. Then I might have a list of questions to fall back on if need be but I have the panelists lead where possible.

Ever have a problem panelist or panelists? How did you handle that?

Lowell: A couple of times I’ve had panelists monopolize the conversation. I try to be acutely aware of how much time each person’s gotten at the mic. Not everyone’s going to contribute equally, but I want to track who hasn’t spoken and who keeps jumping in. Sometimes lengthy comments will generate good material for the other panelists. But sometimes I have to play hardball. There’s sometimes some social politics going on. James Stuart had some useful comments after Metatopia worth reading.

I don’t like cutting folks off, but it is just like running a game. I try to state openly that I’m breaking in, to make the group and the person aware that’s what’s happening. I try not to shame or draw too much attention to the break. Instead I state how the shift or switch is intended to bring in a response or another perspective.

Again, when we’re doing an online panel, using chat can be a great off-screen way to alert participants that you’re going to be switching up or moving to someone else.

Andrea: I thought I did for about 10 seconds, but the panelists were really professional and wonderful, and they straightened themselves out for me!

Rich: I had one panelist who was pretty loud and dismissive of the topic and later bragged that they were drunk on the panel, but thank goodness it’s online, right? I just quickly moved to other panelists and asked them questions and only lightly came back to the disruptive person. Luckily, that worked pretty well.

Stacy: Nope! I’ve had pretty good luck with all of my panelists.

John: Multiple times.

I will try to cut them off as soon as possible. Problem panelists tend to build momentum the longer you let them go unstopped. I would rather potentially make a mistake in stopping them too soon than waste the audience and other panelists' time. If I make a mistake, I will apologize and make it up to them. Generally my goal is to minimize disruption which includes not becoming a disruption myself in how I deal with the issue. Cutting them off and then controlling who gets the spotlight after usually works. If the person says something racist, sexist, or homophobic, I will move on to a panelist who has a less problematic perspective and address the problem in the form of a relevant question to the topic at hand to highlight not everyone feels that way. Ideally I can screen the panelists and disqualify problematic participants before problems happen. These issues sometimes happen when I'm not involved in helping decide who the panelists are or if there is no screening performed. If a person is a problem, I will talk to them after the panel. I go into detail on how to do so here:

What common mistake do you see other moderators make?

Lowell: They think the audience wants to hear their opinion.

Here’s the thing, if you really want to talk about a topic, then you probably should be a participant rather than a moderator. A moderator should draw out ideas and comments from the participants. They shape the conversation by directing traffic: topic switches, asking for explanations, setting the terms of discussion, pressing with hard questions, and so on. I don’t always succeed at this. Ideally I want to keep my comments brief- using them to reinforce or contrast those of the speakers, to celebrate an awesome bit, as a transition, or to set up a question.

I’m frustrated when I see a panel where the moderator clearly doesn’t want to hear what the panelists have to say. Where they’re selling their brand, trying to show how smart they are, or riding some hobby-horse position.

Andrea: Moderators are there for one purpose: to moderate.  Sometimes, that requires being a little firm with a panelist or the whole panel to make sure you stay on topic or to stop someone from taking advantage of the whole panel.

Rich: They take…. forever…. to ask…. their…. questions. Dead air kills me. I can barely pay attention to a panel on YouTube with all of the whole web beckoning me. If you’re slow to get to conversation, then you’re losing me. I’ve watched the Indie+ panel youtube stats and most viewers drop off between 15-20 minutes. You need to hit the juicy stuff UP FRONT, don’t dance your way into it. Preface the panel, introduce the guests and establish their credibility and point-of-view, then hit the meat. Go for the biggest, most provocative question in your list. Lead off with a biggie. Be bold.

Stacy: The biggest mistake that I see happen frequently is to treat the panel like an interview. The moderator asks a question, each person answers in turn, then the moderator asks another question, and so on… if we’re not actually having a discussion, it might as well be just individual interviews.

Ditto if the format is that everyone talks, then everyone asks questions. I need to be able to jump in and talk to someone and ask them questions while they’re talking about the topic, otherwise it’s a bit of a disconnect to do it later.

John: Not stopping people from talking over each other. Not communicating with the panelists before the panel. Not setting expectations. Not repeating audience questions. Not clarifying or asking for clarification regarding confusing points. Not keeping track of spotlight. Not asking why.

What do I mean by, "not asking why"?

People ask questions but don't express why the questions are important. For example, asking a panelists to solve X problem without addressing why X is a problem to begin with. This can lead to answers that only address obvious surface issues and not the real causes underneath.

Any tips on getting the audience to participate?

Lowell: Give a shout out that you’re going to be taking questions at some point. That primes the audience. For online panels, drum up questions ahead of time, use the Q&A function or both. I’ve had some problems getting the Q&A going- you have to set that ahead of time. You can’t turn it on from inside the Hangout. Test it out ahead of time and get comfortable with it.

Andrea: I’ve never been in a position where the audience could participate -- sorry!

Rich: Crowd source questions and thank people when they offer them up. +1 their contributions as they give you good stuff for the panel. Take note of who asked those questions and credit them when you ask them. It’s easy to do if you’re organized.

Next thing is to get your panelists to help you get the word out. Since this is a Hangout On Air, you’re going to get ten times as many after-the-fact viewers as you do live. Focus on the YouTube video. Once the panel is done, crow about it, highlight cool moments, ask the panelists to mention they were on the panel.

One thing I’m doing now is cutting a Gamer Gift Guide down to 3-5 minute chunks and releasing them as little YouTube videos. I think it will be helpful for folks and better for the YouTube medium than hour long panels.

And months down the road, don’t be afraid to post something about the video again. People will miss things on social media and come back to it or discover it later.

Stacy: When it comes to panels via hangout, audience participation is largely based around getting the word out. You need to tell the world:

  1. Who is on the panel.
  2. When the panel is.
  3. What the panel is about… more than just the title.
  4. Whether or not you’re taking questions beforehand.
  5. How to submit questions both beforehand, and during.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Social media is a great way to do this. I’ve found that who is on your panel can be the biggest draw to gaining questions. Inviting panelists who are active participants in social media makes a big difference, too. Many of them have already cultivated a pretty good following who will eagerly jump up and ask questions.

John: Invite the audience to participate. Before the panel ask who is interested in the topic and why. Use their answers to ask more questions. Make it clear you are listening and their voices are important. Do this as early as possible.

What’s your next panel going to be?

Collaborative World Building panel Mod: Sherri Stewart 2013
Collaborative World Building panel Mod: Sherri Stewart 2013

Lowell: We’ve done a couple of GM Jams. That brings together GMs who’ve run a particular setting the challenges and what they’ve done with it. I’m putting another one together for Apocalypse World. I’m also working on panels for All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Legend of the Five Rings.

Andrea: I don’t know, sorry!

Rich: I am in 2015 planning stages right now. I’ll have one in January for Indie+. I’m also bringing a new panel moderator on board to help us reach new folks and create even more delicious, delicious conversations and panels.

Stacy: I have no idea. I have plans to put in a panel for GenCon to either talk about running virtual conventions, or gaming virtually… maybe both.

Before then, however, I’ll likely run a panel or two for ConTessa, just not sure what about, yet.

Other Thoughts?

Lowell: Everything I said here really ought to begin with “I think…” to emphasize how subjective this is.

I’d also say be prepared to get strange responses to your panels, especially if posted online. We did a panel for ConTessa on Collaborative World-Building that I thought offered some interesting new tools. We had one person take it as an assault on classic GM approaches, take us to task for not ‘presenting the other side,’ and generally described it as a circle-jerk.

So that was weird.

Andrea: Being a moderator on a panel is hard, but it was definitely a fun experience.  I think there are a lot of different kinds of panels and panelists and moderators, so it’s tough to generalize how best to do things and have it apply to all of them.  Even as a weak moderator, though, the key is to have really fantastic panelists!

Rich: I started off doing panels like I saw them at meatspace conventions, but I’m looking at the viewer stats and I’m convinced it’s wrong. Hour long panels are not working on YouTube. Now, recording them, then dropping them to audio-only release on a podcast, that has an effective use case. People dig some long talk on a podcast. But grabbing eyes for an hour on YouTube, the best you can hope for is a person who watches the panel in 15-20 minute chunks.

I’m angling to hyperfocus panels in 2015 down to 20 minutes. Use distinct topics and breaks and cut that panel into bite-sized snippets and throw it all out there. See what is gobbled up, then focus further on that.

It might be fantastic, it might flop. But I’m not afraid to try new things with how I’m doing panels. Neither should you (be).

Stacy: There’s a whole category of panels that can best be lumped into the category of ‘Diversity Panels’. At last year’s GenCon, when paging through the events, I spotted nearly one a page, and often there were pages with two or more. Obviously, this is a lightning rod topic that people are interested in talking about, but it doesn’t serve the actual cause of gaining diversity in gaming if the diverse people are only talking about their experiences as ‘Other’.

Follow the Cardinal Rule of Diversity Panels. If you’re going to invite someone to a diversity panel, make sure they also get invited to a panel at the same event where they talk about something else. They may not accept the invitation, but you need to at least make the effort. Otherwise, you’re contributing to the lack of diversity rather than helping things get better.

Also (and there’s no nice way to put this, so I’m just going to be honest), if you’re a white male, don’t moderate a diversity panel. It sends the wrong message.

If you’re truly interested in diversity, then also keep the following in mind for any panel (but particularly the ones not about diversity):

Women speak up 75% less when they’re outnumbered by men  ( This means that the one woman on your panel is less likely to speak up, and the women in your audience are going to be less likely to ask questions.

Women also interrupt less, and men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men ( ).

This means that the woman on your panel who’s been quiet most of the time likely isn’t staying quiet just because she doesn’t have anything to add. She’s probably quiet because she doesn’t want to be rude and interrupt, your male panelists don’t ever shut up long enough for her to feel like she can talk, or she’s already been interrupted so often that she’d rather doodle than participate.

It’s up to you as the moderator to bridge that confidence gap. Pay attention to how often your male panelists interrupt her. If she’s not talking much, figure out why.

Do the male panelists interrupt her every time she starts to share a thought? She’s probably just being too polite, and doesn’t want to interrupt back, or has already given up because she’s been interrupted so much she doesn’t feel like her input is valid or wanted.

Do pauses in conversation only come up when you’re between topics? If the men are being exceptionally long-winded, and answering the question is in the form of a free-for-all, she’ll only feel like she can jump in at the very end. By then, her point might have been made by the other guys on the panel. Shut down rambling answers so everyone gets a chance, and make sure she gets an opportunity to answer each question… preferably not always after everyone else has had a say.

Are there women in the audience, but you’re mainly getting questions from men? Seek out the women who have questions and call on them. If a woman raises her hand to speak, but a man just blurts out a question, don’t answer the question. Tell him you’ll get back to his question after you answer the woman’s question. Make an effort to call on women in the audience just as often or even more often than the men.

Lastly, do the extra legwork to find more than one woman to be on your panel in the first place. No one likes to feel like a token.