Legal Law

three Suggestions On Being A Profitable Moderator

A few weeks ago, I shared some tips on being a successful panelist. While not exclusively limited to in-house counsel, as I shared before, I get more asks as in-house counsel, which is why this is worth a post.

Unlike being a panelist, a moderator doesn’t necessarily need to be a subject-matter expert on the topic, which may make the job easier for some. But I personally think that being a moderator is actually more work. Instead of being able to just focus on what you want to say in response to a question that you have had time to think about, as a moderator, you have to be more contemporaneous and reactive in the moment. As a moderator, you have to be able to multitask — listen to panelists and respond (substantively if possible), using responses to transition to other panelists or other topics, paying attention to questions from the audience, keeping panelists from speaking too much or encouraging them to speak more if needed, keeping the panel moving and keeping time. The best moderators I have seen are able to effortlessly converse with panelists and engage with the audience at the same time.

While these tips may not work for everyone, they may help get you to where you want to be.

Choose Your Questions Wisely

For me, the questions you ask are everything. Too broad, and you’ll get an unsatisfying monologue that will bore listeners. Too narrow, and it doesn’t garner enough interest or conversation. Think about the theme of the conference (if it is for a conference), the why behind the panel, and what the audience is likely looking for. Personally, I’m a fan of extracting tangible tips or practical takeaways that help audience members feel like the panel was worth their time. Also think about the order of your questions. Does it have a logical flow? If you’re a litigator, my analogy is that it’s like when you’re asking questions on direct — your questions should help tell the story or make the point you’re trying to make. Consider whether you may have anything to add as well — so you may be able to expand upon the points your panelists will make. While words of affirmation like “that’s an excellent point” are better than nothing, they get old after repetition.

Prepare Your Panelists

If you’re like me, you resist adding one more meeting to your schedule. But as a moderator, my suggestion is to have at least one, if not two prep calls with your panelists. Warning — try to get on their schedules early, especially if your panelists are other busy lawyers. First, it’s an opportunity to make introductions and get a sense for why each of your panelists said yes to the topic. Second, it’s an opportunity for you to find out what each panelist wants to say so you can create questions that will extract those points. After the first call, I like to create a draft of questions to send, invite panelists to revise questions or choose their preference. Sometimes, a call is not needed after this, but I find that having a short check-in with the panelists, even right before the actual panel may be helpful.

Practice With The Tech

Whether you are in person or virtual, schedule some time to practice with the tech. It doesn’t matter how great your content is, we have all experienced how technical difficulties can derail an entire presentation. Practice with the platform. Many of us are well-versed in Zoom, but some conferences use very specific applications. Will you be able to use a virtual background or will you have to make sure the room behind you is presentable? Get familiar with how the audience will be able to engage with the panel — whether it’s through a Q&A function or chat function or simply unmuting at the end.

As with anything, it’s about practice. Happy moderating!


Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.

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