I am always on the lookout for creative panel discussion formats, so when I found a panel using Dr. Seuss hats, I was intrigued.  So I called Jane Stevens, founder of ACEs Connection Network and panel moderator of the session on “Trauma-informed and Resilience-building Communities: The Journey of ACEs Heroes” at the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) conference.

So here’s the backstory:  Her panel was sandwiched between two high-powered “make ’em laugh, make ’em cry” speakers on the “deadly” afternoon of the last day of the conference.  So she was challenged to make this panel extraordinary!  The premise of the panel was based on a video animation by Matthew Winkler. He, in turn, was inspired by Joseph Campbell, who explored the common themes of a hero’s journey from stories around the world in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  The objective of the panel was to describe the hero’s journey and to let others know what to expect and that they are not alone.

So Jane wrote a rap song….and then she shared it with her panelists.  Initially, they were shocked (whaattt?  This isn’t going to be your typical panel discussion?), but once they realized what she was trying to do, they got into it too!  They helped with the pacing and word choice, and then one of the panelists quipped that it sounded more like Dr. Seuss than rap….and they all agreed!  So one of the panelists offered to buy some Dr. Seuss hats.  Another offered to buy some large storybooks and recover them in the panel theme and put the ACEs story in the books so they could read it onstage…and a creative format was born!

So here’s what they did:

  • Sauntered on to the stage with upbeat music: Sly and the Family Stone’s Everyday People. (Yeah, yeah!)
  • Moderator Stevens introduced the topic on building communities and the hero’s journey.  She then introduced the panelists.
  • Then, “like magicians, the four people on stage pulled out Dr. Seuss hats – tall, broad brimmed hats with the familiar red and white stripes – and put them on their heads. They all opened up what looked like children’s books, and taking turns, each started to take the audience along for an ACEs journey. The surprise was that the story — scripted by Stevens — about a girl named Patience, was all in Seuss-like rhyme.”[How clever!  You can read the story here.]  As they were telling the story, a slideshow was running with Stevens advancing the slides at specific points in the story.
  • Then each of the three panelists shared their own journeys of integrating practices based on ACEs science in their communities.  The panelists started with a chapter title and described their experiences much like a story to be told to the audience.
  • To summarize the presentations, Moderator Stevens showed the 100 Million Healthier Lives “Mapping the Movement” map, a network of networks that features many health initiatives across the globe.
  • The panel concluded with a short poem – a call to action for the audience:
Now that we’ve come to the grand finale,
Here’s the moral of this remarkable story.
You all are heroes or soon can be.
Now that you know ACEs science, you can rally.
You’re called to adventure
You’re accepting the challenge
You’re conquering your fear
And saying: I can manage!
To change the world. 
All you have to do…
…says Teri Barila….
Is rock around this clock
And then start over.
  •  And, because they had a bit more time, they invited everyone in the audience to introduce themselves to another person and share their own hero’s story.

Doesn’t this sound like a fun, creative panel?  Stevens said it was very well received and people continued to discuss their own hero’s journies even after the session was over.  And isn’t that what panel discussions are all about?

As I was finishing my call with Stevens, she said, “this experience has encouraged me to think more creatively about panels from now on.”  I hope this post encourages you to do that as well!

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.

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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.