An easy way to get the audience engaged early on in your panel discussion is to ask for a verbal response. Preachers do this all the time: If you believe you are going to heaven, say, “Amen!” and the audience shouts “Amen!”
You could also tell the audience to say, “Hallelujah,” exclaim “Oh Yeah!” or shout out “Uh-huh!” If confidentiality is important, ask for those to agree to hum. You’ll find those who are passionate will hum loudly!
No need to limit yourself to verbal responses, either. You can ask them to “Applaud if you like vanilla ice cream” or stand up if you are committed to making ice cream available all summer long.
On the flip-side of the coin you can also ask the audience to say, “Oh no,” shout out “No way,” or even “Boo” if you don’t like pistachio ice cream.
This is, in fact, a simplified version of polling. There is just one choice and one action – which you believe the majority of the people in the audience are in agreement with. Equally as important to selecting the choice you want to poll is the response/activity that they will actually do. People will say “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord” in a church, but will they willingly and loudly say it in front of their peers? That is for you to decide.
Just keep in mind that the volume of the response can also show the strength of the audience’s interest level and/or commitment. Which is, of course, handy information to have at the start of your panel or to poll periodically during your panel discussion.