A panel discussion is a specific format used in a meeting, conference or convention. It is a live or virtual discussion about a specific topic amongst a selected group of panelists who share differing perspectives in front of a large audience.
- The panel is typically facilitated by a “moderator” who guides the panel and the audience through the event.
- The panel, typically 3-4 experts or practitioners in the field, shares facts, offers opinions and responds to audience questions either through questions curated by the moderator or taken from the audience directly.
- The panel session typically lasts for 60-90 minutes.
A panel is NOT:
- A set of presentations, one after another. The panel format allows for a brief introduction and then discussion among the panelists and audience. If the majority of the panel agenda is centered around presenting information, then just give each panelist a speaking slot with a Q&A after each speaker.
- A one-on-one interview with each panelist. Many untrained moderators simply ask questions of each panelist, one after another, rather than build the dialogue into a conversation. Unless there is interplay among the panelists, have an “up close and personal” interview with each speaker.
- Just Q&A from the audience. When the focus is completely on answering the audience’s questions, you have a forum or “town hall” meeting.
Not that any of these formats are bad; they are different than and an alternative to a panel discussion. Just call it like you see it, be it a panel, presentation, interview or forum.
Use a panel when you believe the group of panelists will generate something more interesting than any one individual panel member could generate on his/her own. Watch this video – one of a series of 7 on how to moderate a lively and informative panel discussion.
Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.