This week at IMEX America in Las Vegas, I was speaking about how to make your panel discussions go from boring to bravo. Before the session began, a meeting professional said, “I’m not a big fan of panels. They are just too boring.”
My dear meeting professional. One of the main reasons your panels are boring is that YOU have not set your panel up for success. Sure, you identified a slot of time, selected a topic and wrestled up a moderator and some panelists. You consider your job to be done.
At this point, your job is HALF done. You still have some fundamental groundwork to cover with your panel moderator who will bring your vision to reality.
Oh? Your vision is a stultifying, boring panel? Well then, that’s what you’ll get. And if you have NO vision (or don’t bother to share it), then your panel moderator will step in. And if your panel moderator doesn’t have a vision, you’ll get the same old boring, draped table with name tents and microphone stands.
It doesn’t have to be that way. PLEASE meet with your panel moderator (either face-to-face or virtually) and have a chit-chat about what the panel could be. Some key questions to discuss are:
The Event. The panel discussion is typically one session within an entire event. Share the panel date, start and end times and location. Also discuss where this panel is within the arc of the entire event agenda, what comes before and after the panel discussion. Share the event website URL, marketing materials and any other logistical information (including attire).
Panel Title. An intriguing title will capture your audience’s attention. Work with the panel moderator to develop a catchy and effective title that is consistent with the event theme.
Panel Objectives. Clarify the stated objectives for the panel – especially if marketing material has already been published. What do you want them to know, think or feel about the topic?
Panel Format. Discuss your vision for the panel. How formal or informal? Traditional or more unique? Confirm how much latitude you have to play with the format and agenda.
Sponsoring Organization. Review the mission of the business, association or organization. Ask about their past experiences of having panels on their program – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Audience. Confirm the audience size, demographics and expectations for the panel discussion.
- What’s the expected level of expertise in the room around the panel topic?
- What are their key interests, needs and concerns?
- What questions are they hoping to find answers to?
- What will be the impact of the panelists’ comments on their work and lives?
Panelists. Share the names, bio and contact information for any panelist who has already been invited or confirmed to participate, why they were selected, as well as a copy of what has been communicated to them. Ask for recommendations (see Step 2). Determine any inducements you can offer additional panelists to serve and if there are any promotional policies or prohibitions you need to be aware of.
Success Criteria. Discuss how you will determine and evaluate the success of the panel. Evaluation forms? Hallway buzz?
Room Logistics. Share any details you have about the room size and layout, furniture setup and color of the backdrop.
Audio/Visual. Discuss audio (microphones), visual (video projection) and internet (Wi-Fi) requirements.
Rights. If the panel will be recorded (audio and/or video) or live-streamed, you’ll need the moderator and panel to sign a release form.
Support Staff. Mention if you intend to have any additional support in the room, e.g., room monitors, microphone runners, etc.
Promotion. Ask for the moderator’s help to get the word out and any post-event messaging to reinforce the panel discussion.
As you discuss these items, you’ll find the answers to be less defined and you and the panel moderator will have the opportunity to create an amazing experience for the audience and the panelists. Try this checklist to help the conversation move along. When you make intentional choices in collaboration with the panel moderator, you greatly increase the probability that your panel discussion will be a home run!
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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.