So start with a bang and ask an interesting, intriguing, provocative, or polarizing question to stimulate their thinking..
You can ask the same provocative question to all the panelists: For example, “What is the absolute, biggest challenge related to our topic?” or, “What’s the one thing you did that made you successful in this topic?” or, “If you could go back in time, what would be the one thing you would do differently?”
Or, you can target a unique polarizing question to each panelist to give a unique point of view that each panelist is well-qualified to talk about. For example, “Expert A (could be a panelist, but doesn’t have to be) says [this] about [the topic]. Do you agree or disagree and why?”
Scott Burkun provides this example: “Will blogging still be here in the year 2012?” Assign each panelist a yes or no end of that question. If they balk at this being artificial, ask them to propose a better question, or series of questions to frame the debate. Pick the right spine and many problems will take care of themselves.
You can even ask the audience a provocative or polarizing question:
– As a rhetorical question, without asking for answers.
– As a direct question, soliciting a few responses from the audience.
– As a question to be discussed in small groups.
When you start with a controversial question at the beginning of a panel discussion, your audience will lean in to learn more.