During this week’s Powerful Panel Podcast, David Cruickshank shared his “demonstration panel format” which is a brilliant format to share and discuss best practices.
Cruickshank mostly moderates legal panels where the good, bad, and ugly are discussed with a cross-section of panelists. For example, a panel about good trial practices, specifically how lawyers can best present themselves at trial, would have a judge, a defense lawyer, a plaintiff lawyer, and an expert witness on the panel.
The key is to select/create a “case” that can be role-played live or recorded. The case is carefully scripted to be chunked into small segments (3-4 minutes tops) that highlight key issues about the topic that resonates with the audience. Typically, the moderator takes the lead in creating a draft script with the panelists co-creating the script or reacting to the draft – baking in strengths and weaknesses to the script.
Cruickshank explains, “Because I’m trying to create some comments and conduct controversy and exchange of view, I want it [the script] to be purposely flawed in some ways. Because if it’s terrific and everybody agrees, we don’t have much to talk about!”
During the panel discussion, the moderator shows a small segment (e.g. the plaintiff lawyer’s opening statement) gets shown, and then the panelists react to what they liked and what they would have done differently. He usually has 2-3 panelists comment and then moves on to show the next segment.
The moderator will ask a different panelist to lead off the discussion on the second segment….and so it goes!
The moderator can also turn to the audience and ask a specific question such as “What would you do next?”
Cruickshank says, “This all appears on the panel to be very spontaneous. In fact, it’s not. It’s meticulously planned. The questions are planned, the length of the demonstrations are panned, and the panelists have all seen the demonstrations in advance.”
To pull this all off, Cruickshank starts with a simple chart that eventually gets completed over the course of 2-3 conference calls with the panelists.
It starts with the generation of 5-6 issues related to the topic. Then they brainstorm questions either on the phone or independently. The moderator then inserts the best questions into the chart, filling out the time, lead speaker, second speaker, anyone else, and slide numbers, where appropriate. (He uses panelist initials to save space!)
“So my end goal is a completed script with timing questions, speaker slides all in one place. And then what happens? Joan comments firsts. Then, as a moderator, I might say, ‘does anyone have a comment on that?’ And the next one speaks up with a well-prepared comment. Well, that was all planned in advance…but lawyers are very good at making this come across as quite a spontaneous discussion!” (Note, panelists can also jump in unscripted as well!)
Special thanks to David for sharing this unique demonstration panel format (first described here) with us!
Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high-stakes meeting facilitator, is on a quest to make all panel discussions lively and informative. Check out her free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel discussion and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.