Note: This is part three of a three part series on Theater-in-the-Round. Today, the focus is on having a panel-in-the-round. Enjoy!
While theater-in-the-round is a unique audience-centered seating arrangement, it is all the more challenging in which to have a robust panel discussion.
The most prevalent is the fishbowl format where the panelists sit in a circle on the center stage and the audience sits around the stage. In this format, the audience is “listening in” on the café-style conversation among the panelists. While this format fosters a much more intimate discussion, the audience will ALWAYS see the back(s) of at least one panelist. Furthermore, it becomes more problematic to engage the audience in a typical Q&A.
One way you can involve the audience is with the empty chair format. Add one extra chair in the room set up for your panel. So if you have confirmed 3 panelists, set the stage for 4 panelists.
The empty seat is for an audience member who has a strong point of view to add to the conversation. During the introductory remarks, invite the audience to come and sit in the seat if they have something constructive and of value to add to the conversation. Once that person has contributed, ask them to go back to their seat to let the next point of view emerge from the audience.
A more daring format is the musical chairs format where an audience member can tap any one panelist on the shoulder and replace that panelist in the chair.
And then for something completely different, you can use the 4 corners format which has been used quite successfully by Hugh Lee at Fusion Productions: The moderator takes 5-10 minutes to set up the session and introduce the keynote speaker. The keynoter speaks for 30-40 minutes and then takes a seat at front of stage. The moderator introduces Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are at the outside 4 corners of the room and facilitates the discussion/exchange between the 5 “points” in the room and questions come from the audience.
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.