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Panel Discussion Definition

A panel discussion is a specific format used in a meeting, conference, or convention.  It is a live, in-person or virtual discussion about a specific topic amongst a selected group of experts who share differing perspectives in front of an audience.

The main purpose of a panel discussion is for the panelists to share their wisdom and provide insights to create real value and takeaways for the audience. It’s an “up close and personal” discussion amongst the panelists and with the audience.  It’s the part of the story that you can’t find on Google, YouTube, or TED.

So let’s take a deeper dive into the panel discussion definition and what it IS and is NOT:

A panel discussion IS:

  • A panel discussion is typically facilitated by a skilled  “panel moderator” who guides the panel and the audience through a lively conversation about a specific topic.
  • The panelists are a group of people typically 3-4 experts or practitioners in the field, share facts, offers opinions, and responds to audience questions either through questions curated by the moderator or taken from the audience directly.
  • The panel session typically lasts for 60-90 minutes.
  • It can be produced to be in front of a live audience or recorded for replay, shown in-person or remotely, have the moderator and panelists in one location or remote, and with the audience in one physical room, or “virtual” and geographically dispersed.

A panel is NOT:

Panel Discussion Definition

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  • A set of presentations, one after another.  The panel format allows for a brief introduction and then discussion among the panelists and audience.  If the majority of the panel agenda is centered around presenting information, then just give each panelist a speaking slot with a Q&A after each speaker.
  • A one-on-one interview with each panelist.  Many untrained moderators simply ask questions of each panelist, one after another, rather than build the dialogue into a conversation.  Unless there is interplay among the panelists, have an “up close and personal” interview with each speaker.
  • Just Q&A from the audience.  When the focus is completely on answering the audience’s questions, you have a forum or “town hall” meeting.

Not that any of these panel discussion formats are bad; they are different than and an alternative to a panel.  Just call it like you see it, be it a panel, presentation, interview, or forum.

Use a panel when you believe the group of panelists will generate something more interesting than any one individual panel member could generate on his/her own. Watch this video – one of a series of 7 on how to moderate a lively and informative panel discussion.

Related Articles:

The Origins of the term “panel discussion” and the definition

Add a Little Pizzazz To Your Next Panel Program

Example of a Panel Moderator’s Agenda

Formats and Types of Panel Discussions

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.

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