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I’ve worked with live audio for several years in church, concert and crusade settings etc providing sound reinforcement. My suggestions are these: have someone running your mixer with headphones listening to exactly what’s going into the mixer. I would pan the panelists and the audience mics to separate channels i.e. pan all panelists to the left channel and all audience mics to the right. You can make them mono with your NLE. This way if a panelist is coughing while an audience memberis asking a question you can still have clean audio to work with. Also, the person running your board (mixer) will be able to quickly drop a mic level should someone begin coughing or scraping/bumping their mic.
Some mixers have up to four or eight separate outputs (subgroups) or Aux outputsdepending on the size of the mixer you have access to.Different channels can be assigned to Aux1, 2, 3, or 4 etc.With this you could do quite a bit of live mixing and matching. With a laptop and inexpensive software you can get more than two audio channels recording which you can synch with your NLE. This setup could get a little complicated if you’re not familiar with live Audio or don’t have access to a firewire mixer,so if not I’d recommend the simple ‘pan’ method.
The simplest would be to pan pannelists and audience mics to Left and Right respectively and then make them mono in post when you have the levels and eq set like you want. You could probably borrow most of the audio equipment you need.
I’m sure budget is of concern eventually. I’ve included links to some equipment that, while not studio grade will do well for the task you have.
My thoughts.. good luck.