For the last two days, I attended a conference in my hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Always nice to sleep in my own bed vs. stay in a hotel room, although the JW Marriott Camelback Inn is a delightful property with amazingly courteous staff.  The group I was with has their annual meeting there every year!  That’s quite a testimonial; I highly recommend this property.)

 

Needless to say, I was curious. Would there be a panel – or not?

 

Lo’ and behold: Day two, we had a panel of six people (a few too many in my opinion and sure enough, two people didn’t say much at all).

 

I am not surprised.  In a recent survey I conducted with 539 executives, thought leaders and meeting professionals, 98% of the respondents have witnessed a panel format during a meeting they attended in the last 12 months.  That’s an incredibly large number which leads me to conclude that the panel format is commonly used.

 

Some conversation on LinkedIn suggested “banning the panel.”  With these kinds of numbers, I don’t believe panels are going to “go away” anytime soon.  And if that’s the case, we need to make sure panels are more than just mediocre.

 

Why are panels mediocre or worse?  In my conversations with dozens of meeting professionals and from the open-ended comments in the survey, the panel format is seen as an “easy” format to produce.  The meeting planner picks the topic, finds a moderator and selects the panelists.  Then the planner doesn’t have to worry about it; it’s a self-contained conversation.  That time slot has been filled so the planner can focus on the more important aspects of the conference.

 

Unfortunately, moderators and panelists are often selected for political reasons and not necessarily for their talents.  Perhaps the organizer has some high profile executives and/or sponsors that need some kind of visibility on the program, or someone who is “up and coming” who needs a low-risk opportunity to strut their stuff.

 

As a result, panels are often times seen as a “lazy” option and the audience doesn’t really enter into the panel space with high hopes.  This must change.

 

When you select a topic of interest to the audience, select a skilled moderator to facilitate the conversation, and have intriguing panelists to raise diverse viewpoints, then you can have a brilliant panel discussion.  What’s so hard about that?

 

For more resources on how to make panels better, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

 

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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.