10 Ways a Panelist Can Liven Up a Panel Discussion

A Brilliant and Highly Engaging Panel Format
August 24, 2016
The Illustrated Panel Discussion Format
September 7, 2016

You had a sneaking suspicion this was going happen. A good friend asked you to be on a panel, and it’s not going so well. Even though you did your homework (collected your talking points and examples, checked out the other panelists and participated in the pre-panel conference call), the energy in the room is flat. Even YOU are semi-bored!

Evidently, you can’t rely on the moderator to make it lively. So step up with one or a few of these techniques you can use as a panelist to make your panel come alive:

  1. Mingle.  You can already tell when a panel is going to be duller than dirt when you walk into the room. Long draped table at the front, with microphone stands and a lectern to the side. Yawn! So before you take your seat, mingle with the audience. Chat with as many friendly faces as you can. Casually listen in on their conversations to get a sense for the mood in the room. Introduce yourself. Shake people’s hands. Thank them for coming. Get to know their names. Ask them easy questions, such as, “What’s your name and where do you hail from?” or “What brings you here today?” or “What’s your biggest challenge relating to [the topic]?” You are not only establishing rapport with the audience but also gathering valuable information about them that you can incorporate into the discussion.
  2. Take a Poll. The easiest way to engage the audience early on during a panel discussion is to take a quick poll – especially if you don’t know the cast of characters in the room.
  3. Share an Example. Examples are short statements to clarify or elaborate on your point that is usually expressed in one or two sentences. They are often prefaced with “for example” or “for instance.”  Try to refer to specific people in the room or the audience as a whole to make your point. An example of this would be, “You can engage your audience using myriad techniques. For example, you can interview an audience member or take a poll.”
  4. Tell a Story.  When listeners hear a well-told story that illuminates a key point, they take a journey with you, correlating their own experiences with yours. The story becomes much more applicable and memorable…especially if you can do this as clearly and concisely as possible.
  5. Spark Conversation.  It’s tempting to keep answering the moderator’s questions, especially if you know the answers!  But it’s even more important to share the airtime and stimulate the conversation on the stage and with the audience.  You can ask a provocative question to another panelist, shout out to a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who you know is in the room, or talk directly to the audience.  For example, if the topic is about “disruption,” ask the audience to shout out their definition of “disruption.”
  6. Nudge Your Neighbor.  Ask a provocative question to the audience and ask them to talk about it for a minute with their neighbor(s).  People will automatically gravitate to groups of two or three (doesn’t matter how many!).  Watch the energy rise in the room!
  7. Show & Tell. You can use a prop to strengthen your audience’s ability to visualize, understand, accept, and remember an idea, concept, or theme during the panel discussion.
  8. Demo Your Idea. It is one thing to talk about something in the abstract. It’s quite another to show the audience what you are talking about. Demonstrate the value of your idea right in the moment! A demonstration extends beyond what your audience can see or hear; you can have them taste, smell, or touch an object, prop, or model. Whatever your topic, ask yourself these two questions: (1) Can I demonstrate “it” (or even a “bit” of “it”) for the audience? and (2) Better yet, is there a way for the audience to experience it for themselves?
  9. Create a Tweetable Sound Bite. Share one of your key points in a “headline” form—a phrase of no more than five words that encapsulates your idea. Encourage your audience to write it down (or tweet it out!) in order to solidify the takeaways. Your well-honed one-liners fit within the 140-character-tweeting boundary and would be snappy reading for those unable to attend the panel.
  10. Have a Call To Action. You can have a scintillating conversation, but if you don’t ask the audience to do anything with what they have heard, it’s just that.  Great conversation, but no real ramifications.  Why not make a request?

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:

The Definition of a “Rapid Fire Panel Discussion”

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your 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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