The Panel Discussion Report: A 2014 Snapshot on the Effectiveness of Panel Discussions at Meetings, Conferences & Conventions offers some of the most up-to-date information available on the effectiveness of panel discussions at meetings, conferences, and conventions.
Over 500 executives and meeting organizers commented on:
- The effectiveness of the panel discussion format
- What drives them crazy about panels
- Their biggest pet peeve(s) about panels
- The 10 most common moderator mistakes
- The 10 most common panelist mistakes
Panel Discussion Report Recommendations
Is the panel format effective? The data shows us that the answer is “Yes,” when done well; “No,” when done poorly. So when you decide to put a panel on the program, do it well. These days it means going beyond Harry Overstreet’s vision for a panel discussion. To ensure your panel discussions are one of the highest-rated sessions on the program:
1. Select a Skilled Facilitator to Moderate. The success (or failure) of the panel rests on the shoulders of the moderator. They must have credentials, qualifications, or experience as a panel moderator. Ask for recommendations and testimonials. Witness the moderator’s ability to facilitate a panel discussion either live or from video. If unsure of their ability, don’t hesitate to recommend and/or require panel moderator training.
2. Choose an Interesting Topic. Makes sure the topic is of interest to the intended audience. And if you don’t know who is in the audience, talk to the audience right beforehand or take a poll at the onset.
3. Select 3-4 DEEP Panelists. Select interesting panelists who are “DEEP”: Diverse: they have different points of view AND represent the diversity in the audience. Experienced: they are experts and practitioners who are knowledgeable in the topic area. Eloquent: they are able to express their ideas well in a public forum. Prepared: they are willing to do the preparation in support of the audience and the promise.
4. Spice It Up. Today’s audiences not only want to be informed, but they also want to be entertained as well. Think about how you will make the topic fun, trendy and interesting. Have an intriguing title. Get rid of the long, draped table. Set up the room for audience-centered seating. Think beyond the traditional formats and consider using a talk show or game show format. Use technology to engage the audience.
5. Encourage Preparation. The moderator and panelists have to do more than just “show up.” In the few weeks before the event, the moderator should finalize the format and agenda, write the welcome and introductions, curate the questions, decide on the audience Q&A format, determine the logistics, confirm the details with the panelists, assemble the slideshow (if visuals are being used) and possibly even engage the audience before the event starts! The panelists should be briefed by the moderator on the process and ground rules for the session. They should also formulate their key messages and develop short stories or anecdotes that illuminate their points. They can also research their fellow panelists to get to know their background, credentials, and opinions on the subject so they can jump right into a lively discussion.
6. Make It a Conversation. Set the expectation that the panel will NOT be a series of presentations (they have NEVER been intended to be a part of the panel discussion!), but a lively and informational discussion among smart people sharing their views for the ultimate benefit of the audience.
7. Limit Your Slides. If you must use slides, make sure they add value from the attendees’ perspective, make an abstract concept more visibly understandable, or are used to grab the audience’s attention. Otherwise, leave the slideshow for a different presentation format.
8. Engage and Involve the Audience. A panel discussion is held for the audience’s benefit – so why not bring them into the conversation early and often? You don’t have to wait until the formal Q&A at the end to get them engaged! Engage the audience at the onset of the session (or even before) and continue to bring them into the discussion throughout the session (and even beyond).
It all comes down to the choices you make. When you choose to have a panel format, be deliberate and intentional in your choices.
For more information, download a free copy of the Panel Discussion Report here.
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