A recipe for panel disaster is allowing the panelists to “just show up” and expect brilliance to spring forth. Sure, it could happen if the panelists are socially aware, have met each other before, and are willing to stay focused on the topic. But without any preparation, it probably won’t go so well.
I’m a big fan of preparing the panelists ahead of time as to the process we’ll be using – and not so much about the content. If you talk too much about the topic beforehand, then you’ve already had the panel discussion and the audience loses out on the spark and spontaneity of live interaction. It’s a delicate balance.
Here are my suggestions on how to prepare your panelists to be absolutely brilliant on game day:
Pre-Event Email. Send them a pre-event email with the following information:
Pre-Event Meet Up. A short conference call or video conference (30 minutes) a week or two before the panel allows the opportunity for everyone to connect and hear the same information sent in the email as well as ask any format questions. You don’t want to conduct the panel beforehand, so keep this light and social. If you believe there might be a lack of controversy or potential overlap in answers or opinions, you may want to probe each panelist’s approach to the topic. It is also a nice touch to invite the meeting chair/planner to attend/listen in. Here are some key items to cover:
Final Confirmation. Take notes during the pre-event meet up and email them to all panelists. This also serves as an excellent final confirmation of their participation.
Break Bread. Invite the panel to go to breakfast, lunch or dinner together, especially if they have not met. This is meant to be an opportunity to relax, get to know each other and build a rapport that will be obvious on stage. It is NOT the place to hold the panel discussion!
Touch Base. As soon as you get to the venue, seek out your panelists to say “hello.” Help them get settled, remind them of the objective and ground rules, and answer any last minute questions they may have. Chances are they don’t need your help, but they will appreciate the effort – and it allows them to be brilliant on stage.
For more tips on preparing for a panel, listen to this podcast.
Kristin Arnold MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP, is a professional meeting facilitator and panel moderator. She is passionate about making meetings and panel discussions more engaging, interactive and collaborative. You can read more of her work in one of her books Team Basics, Email Basics, Team Energizers, or Boring to Bravo.