Convention Panel Moderator’s Guide and Tip Sheet

Note: This document used to be the WisCon Moderator's Guide and Tip Sheet. However, it disappeared from the WisCon site some time ago. The below version was converted to HTML by Jed Hartman; since this version is not an official WisCon publication, nor is it on the WisCon website, I removed specific references to WisCon and WisCon email addresses. If the guide appears on the WisCon site again at some time in the future, I'll take this version down and redirect this URL to the WisCon one.

Disclaimer: These guidelines and suggestions are the distillation of a series of brainstorming sessions. In other words, this document was developed by committee. So if it waffles, backpedals, and blatantly contradicts itself, well, that’s the way it goes.

So you’ve volunteered to or been shanghaied into moderating a panel at a convention. Thank you! We appreciate your efforts and hope this guide will help you make a good and fun job of it.

The preliminary stage to everything below is Defining the Panel—the point and purpose of the discussion—but we'll assume that’s already been done. (If the description of a panel you’re moderating doesn’t provide that information, please send a note to the convention's programming committee.)

Pre-con preparation suggestions

Make yourself a crib sheet for use during the panel.

Including but not limited to:

Read something by each panelist, if possible.

If not, at least know their latest book or a recent accomplishment.

Talk with the panelists before the con.

We strongly encourage moderators to email or phone their panelists in advance, to review the panel topic and general lines of discussion. Please also remind everyone to meet in the Green Room 15 minutes before the panel.

At the con

In the Green Room

Getting started

Finishing up

Moderator styles

We present these as examples for your consideration. Most moderators combine elements of more than one style. The style used for any panel depends on the personality of the moderator and the interaction of the participants. Some of the building blocks for a style can be found in the next section.

Keeps things moving, involves everyone, facilitates discussion without taking sides or expressing opinions. A good even-handed moderator can moderate a panel on a topic he knows nothing about and isn’t even interested in.
Much like even-handed, but even more so. Especially attentive to quiet panelists who need to be drawn out and encouraged to enter the discussion.
Joins in the discussion and expresses opinions, but without taking over or dominating the panel. At times, panel may appear to be a round-table discussion with no one moderating. However, the moderator is in fact leading the discussion, raising questions, encouraging participation by everyone and dealing with interruptions. This style is difficult to pull off. You must be able to split yourself into 2 people--the moderator and the participant. Do not call on yourself more often than any other participant.
Tightly Reined
A moderator who naturally tends toward Participating Moderator trying very hard to function as an Even-Handed. Produces tremendous dramatic tension as audience waits for moderator to crack.
Intensely interested in the topic, but hasn’t made up his mind how he feels about it yet and is hoping to gain insight into the subject (frequently a difficult or controversial one) by questioning the panelists.
This moderator believes that life is a bit dull without conflict. Specializes in questions like, “I sense that you may have some disagreement with the last speaker,” and “You aren’t going to let him get away with that, are you?”

The art of moderating

Moderator emergency kit

When the conversation grinds to a halt

Squelching the panel

Squelching the audience

Moderator mantras


The WisCon moderator's guide was adapted from The Minicon Moderator Tip Sheet, which was started and organized by 1990 Minicon Programming Co-Chair Sharon Kahn, and involved many people’s input. The original is copyright 1990, 1995 by the Minnesota Science Fiction Society, Inc.

The WisCon version was converted to HTML and lightly modified by Jed Hartman in 2006. Specific references to WisCon were removed for this edition of the guide in 2008.

Moderator Preparation Sheet

(suitable for printing out and writing on)

Name of Panel


Day / Time / Room





Panelist Intros (including yourself)






Starter Questions







Emergency Questions and Notes