When you have a large audience – let’s say anything over a hundred people – it can be a challenge to get everyone involved during a panel discussion.  Obviously, every person in the room can’t ask a question – the numbers just don’t work.  And don’t forget about that ONE person who hijacks the session with some obtuse, crazy question!

For larger audiences, I like to use technology tools to enable the crowd to weigh in, typically to:

  1. Take a quick poll or “vote.”
  2. Gather questions to ask the panelists.

So what kind of “panel technology tools” are out there?  After canvassing the web, my fellow professional panel moderators and my meeting planner friends, I believe there are essentially three types:

  1. Audience response systems that use some kind of handheld device such as Turning Technologies, CLiKAPAD and Reply Systems.  You either invest in the hardware or rent it.  Since there are quite a few vendors out there who can help you determine which system will work best, I’m not going to focus on these devices.
  2. Social media driven that use a social media platform to drive engagement.  For example, using the meeting Twitter hashtag and then projecting the results using a Twitterfall.  Since social media is a moving target, I’m not going to focus on these guys, either.  (Maybe another blog post, but not today!)
  3. Apps, text, and web-based programs that use a smartphone or tablet.  Since most audiences have some kind of smartphone already with them, this can be a low-cost solution worth exploring.

Many conferences and conventions use a meeting app such as Lanyon, DoubleDutch, or Quickmobile, so check with your meeting planner to see if they are using an event app AND if it has polling and Q&A functionality.  If they do, I suggest you leverage that platform.

If not, then you’ll want to start looking at all the options.  And if you are like me, you can get confused pretty quickly!  (And the pricing makes absolutely no sense to me…check out my spreadsheet analysis here).

So let’s keep this simple:

Out of the 16 different vendors, all of them allow you to vote and submit a question/comment that will display the results on a projection screen and that you can download the results for future use.  Some are easier to use than others, but after that, it gets a bit murky.

Then you have to ask yourself a few questions.  Do you want to be able to:

  • Allow people to submit anonymously or log in?
  • “Moderate” the questions and allow the moderator/ombudsman to flag questions to be asked and/or remove questions that should not be entertained?
  • Encourage people to “like” specific questions so the “best liked” rise to the top?
  • Have people to “comment” on a question?
  • Integrate the answers into another application such at PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi?
  • Add your organization’s logo and brand colors?
  • Confident that the data is safe and secure?
  • Have a free trial period?

Depending on your answer, you’ll choose a different solution.

I’m a big fan of Slido as they provide almost all of the functionality above at a reasonable price – especially if you are starting out.  They have the best rate of ZERO dollars: one event with up to 1,000 attendees to do three polls and interactive Q&A.  At the end of your session, Slido even cranks out an infographic!

But that meets my needs.  Yours may be different based on the audience size, on-site support, branding, degree of security and functionality desired for an amazing and engaging panel discussion.

What technology do you use for panel discussions and why?

For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets 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.

Related Articles:

Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #86 with Scott Kirsner: The Biggest Fear in Moderating a Panel

Advice for Panel Moderators to Have a Powerful Panel Discussion

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats

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.

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