I suggest a “conversational drumbeat” – that each and every time you reach out to your panelists, you keep telling them that this is a conversation.
Drumbeat One: It all starts with the invitation. Whether you are inviting them to participate by phone or by email, let your panelists know that this panel will be different from the norm. Emphasize the conversational nature. Perhaps the format will be a bit different. Or the fact that you are engaging the audience early on in the discussion. Confirm that this is a panel discussion; not a presentation!
Drumbeat Two: During your prep call, emphasize the importance of making the panel a conversation. If you can, have the conference organizers on the call or at the meet up reinforcing that message as well!
Drumbeat Three: During the meet up the day of the panel, reinforce the conversational intention. Panel moderator Kate Delaney pumps them up by saying, “We just want to have a conversation here. You are the barracudas. You have this incredible information. It’s amazing we have you here! I just want to get as much out to this audience as we can in a conversational way.”
Drumbeat Four: Right before the session starts, remind them: “This is a conversation. Don’t worry. Just let it flow. Just follow your instincts. Just have that conversation like we’re all sitting around discussing something really valuable and important to the people who are listening…Don’t be afraid to jump in. You have a point to make, or somebody says something and you don’t agree, or you want to add to it, just go for it.”
Drumbeat Five: As you are introducing the topic and the format to the audience, re-emphasize the goal of the panel is to have a completely unscripted, spontaneous conversation for the benefit of the audience.
When the panelists hear that drumbeat, they are likely to understand that you’re looking for a conversational panel discussion!