top 10 panel tips to boost success
Occasionally that will work. More often, your audience will listen to 60 minutes of like-minded people repeating what the previous person said. Your audience will leave no more informed or inspired than when they arrived.
“You want panelists who will keep the audience’s attention and be approachable to attendees,” expressed Jeanette Hurt, writer and author from Milwaukee, WI, American Society of Journalist and Authors (ASJA) Content Connections co-chair for the 2017 Writer’s Conference in Chicago. “We worked with speakers and editors from diverse backgrounds, including the editor of the Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle, to provide a wide array of perspectives for our attendees.”
Instead of scheduling panel discussions as your fallback plan to fill a slot, design them as a rich source of information and engagement. These top ten “panel protocols” – official rules that will boost your probability of success – will help you get there:
1. Select a Strong, Skilled Moderator. According to my research, the primary reason panels fail is using an unskilled moderator. Moderators are speakers too, so do your due diligence to select a strong, skilled moderator who is insightful, can ask probing questions, will engage all the panelists fairly, will involve the audience and intervene firmly.
Moderators need to recognize it isn’t their keynote. “It is important to remember the stage is shared with other speakers,” said Damon Brown, entrepreneur, public speaker, author of Bring Your Worth, and past panelist, “The goal should not be to dominate the conversation, but to inform the audience. This is equally true of moderators, as it’s difficult to be on a panel when the moderator is the primary person speaking about their own experience. The moderator should guide the conversation, not be the main one talking.”
2. Be Clear About Your Objectives. Clearly define how you want the participants to benefit from the shared expertise of the panelists. Ensure your moderator and each panelist is able to fulfill those expectations as well as what is stated in the promotional materials.
3. Invite D.E.E.P. Panelists. Working with your panel moderator, select, invite, and confirm interesting panelists who can effectively address the topic and fulfill your objectives:
• Diverse. Make sure the panel represents the visual demographic of the audience while ensuring a diversity of opinion and thoughts. A group that is in complete agreement can make a discussion boring.
• Expertise. Invite a recognized authority or thought leader in the industry who possesses strong credentials. That person must establish credibility with the audience quickly via a biography or a 30-second introduction.
• Eloquent. Panelists should be good conversationalists. Do they speak well on the phone? Did your interview with them produce a monologue or a discussion? Review video footage of your potential panelists to ensure they can keep the audience engaged and interested.
• Prepared. Panelists must be willing to think through their key points and tell short stories and anecdotes that illustrate those points.
4. Encourage an Innovative Format. Stretch your panel to go beyond the traditional format of introductions, questions to the panelists, audience Q&A and close. Audiences are looking for something unique, special, and spontaneous where the wisdom and insights of diverse viewpoints are shared. You want to create something they can’t find on Google, YouTube, or TED.
5. Promote the Panel. In addition to traditional marketing, add a short survey to your event registration asking what would make the panel truly engaging and worthwhile. Additionally, ask the moderator and panelists to post a video teaser, text, and images you provide.
6. Stage the Room. Design your room set to enhance the intimacy between the panel and the audience. Dump the draped table on a riser and use bar stools, comfortable chairs, and/or couches with coffee tables. Just make sure that the panelists will have somewhere to put their water glasses and that the seating won’t be hazardous for dress-wearing female speakers.
7. Mic ‘Em! Provide a microphone to the moderator and each panelist for audiences with more than 50 people and test it in advance. Do not provide one hand-held mic that the panelists pass down the line. If the budget allows, consider wireless lavaliere or headset mics for each panelist.
8. Beat the Conversational Drum. Tell the moderator and panelists they are engaging in a spontaneous conversation among smart people; it is not a staged event. Prevent the panelists from rehearsing their questions and ideas during their pre-meeting, otherwise, the subsequent conversation will appear to be contrived. Polite ping-pong of the questions between the moderator and each panelist, or passing of the hot potato (the same question) amongst the panelists is boring. You want a fresh and lively conversation!
“Diverse perspectives are the reason why panels exist,” stated Brown, “It’s great to have panelists who disagree with each other, as long as they come from a place of respect for each other’s experiences and knowledge.”
9. Engage the Audience. Partner with the panel moderator to design ways to engage the audience before, during, and after the session. Hint: It’s more than a gratuitous Q&A at the end.
10. Be Helpful. Finally, be accessible during the planning process. On the day of the event, participate in their pre-meeting and support each of them as needed. Be sure to express appreciation for all their hard work.
When you make intentional choices based on these ten protocols, you will dramatically increase the probability of success of your panel discussion.
Kristin Arnold is known as the “Panel Improvement Evangelist.” She’s on a crusade to make all panel discussions lively and informative and wants YOU to be more deliberate in your choices. You (and your panel moderators) can take a free video course on how to moderate a panel discussion at www.PowerfulPanels.com. (add online only icon)