The Definition of a “Rapid Fire Panel Discussion”

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“Rapid fire panel discussion sounds much more sexy than [boring] panel discussion, doesn’t it?  I admit, I was intrigued with the title when I stumbled upon the description of TSX Ignite’s “Information-Dense, Rapid-Fire Panel Discussions.

TSX Ignite had six panels, one after another, each with a single, definable topic as the focus of the conversation. I can’t tell from the posting, but I don’t think there was audience Q&A.  I’m also reading between the lines here, but I think the total time was two hours with 14 different speakers!

But is that the accepted definition of a “rapid fire panel discussion?”  Ahem, I think not.

At the time of this writing, there were 13,500 Google search results.  As I waded into the Google wormhole, I discovered there are many different varieties of rapid-fire panels – and that the TSX Ignite version is probably the least mentioned!

Here’s the summary of what I unearthed in my anecdotal research on the “rapid fire panel”:

  1. Rapid Fire Panel Presentations.  Panelists give a short presentation (anywhere from 40 seconds, five minutes, and even up to 10 minutes!)  followed with audience Q&A.  Personally, I think this is a pretty typical panel format and feels like the event organizer is just putting lipstick on the proverbial panel pig.
  2. Rapid Fire Panelist Words of Wisdom.  Panelists share quick “tidbits,” “quick wins,” or “best practices” in a short amount of time followed by audience Q&A.
  3. Rapid Fire Questions from the Audience.  Audience asks the questions in a “fast-paced Q&A” – whatever that means!  The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) playfully states in the promotional material, “Shoot all you can, ask all the questions!”  I was also intrigued with ICOR‘s Colorado Real Estate Investor’s description: “90 Questions in 90 Minutes: Legal Rapid Fire Panel.” That’s gotta be a tough one to moderate since most lawyers can’t answer a question in less than a minute!
  4. Rapid Fire Drinking.  This one had nothing to do with the panel format, other than the panelists take a drink after answering each question.  The first question at the United Security Summit’s Rapid7 Rapid Fire Panel Session was “What will be the panel’s drink of choice this year?” (I am reminded of Sally Hogshead bringing out some Jagermeister during a panel discussion at the National Speakers Association!)
  5. Rapid Fire Panels.  This is the TSX Ignite model where there is one quick panel after another.  Note the pluralization of “panel” into “panels.”  I think that’s what makes this format different than the ones mentioned above.

So….since no one has formalized this format, I’d like to take a stab at it – and please let me know what you think!  Since #1 and #2 are still within the confines of a traditional panel format, #4 is, ahem, intoxicatingly unique, and #5 is a bit harder to pull off, I’ll work with #3 – where the audience is asking the esteemed expert panelists the questions in a rapid fire manner:

  • Moderator welcome, format overview, agenda and ground rules
  • Panelist introductions with a 30 second introductory comment from each panelist, stating his/her diverse viewpoint on the defined topic
  • Audience Q&A (and here’s the rapid fire part!)
    • Audience members queue up to ask the question – either behind a microphone stand OR use a throwable microphone
    • Audience member states the question FIRST then can add one or two sentences for background information.  That is all…and the moderator will quickly intervene.
    • ONE of the panelists will answer the question with a specified period of time (e.g. 45 seconds – but that will depend on the topic)
    • Keep going until you have only five minutes to go….
  • Moderator to summarize and ask the panelists quickly (state the timeframe e.g. 15 seconds) offer one key point for the audience to remember
  • Moderator mentions any administrative items, next event on the program and thanks all for their rapt participation!

Some of the panels actually had chimes or buzzers and even game-show music to keep it moving and add a bit of levity!  Others had each of the panelists stand behind a lectern for the entire session (think Presidential debates).

So…what do you think?  Has anyone ever run a rapid fire panel discussion like this – or some other variation?  Would love to hear from you!

To learn tips to successfully moderate a panel discussion like a pro, try this user-friendly guide.

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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.

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Kristin Arnold
Kristin Arnold
Award-winning author Kristin Arnold is an expert panel moderator and professional meeting facilitator.
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