You have a panel discussion scheduled for the next meeting you are planning and feel, for the most part, it should be pretty straight-forward. Pick a topic, select a moderator, choose the panelists and call it a day. Think again.
“The Panel Report: A 2014 Snapshot on the Effectiveness of Panel Discussions at Meetings, Conferences and Conventions,” found that 63% of respondents feel panel discussions are mediocre or much worse.
Why? Panel discussions are everywhere. 99% of respondents have seen a panel format during a meeting in the past 12 months. However, this is not the reason for the mediocrity. The reason seems to stem from the lack of attention to the production of the panel discussion. Most often, as noted above, the planner picks a topic, moderator, panelists and then moves on to the “more important” aspects of the meetings.
So how do you raise your audience’s expectations? “When you choose to have a panel format, be deliberate and intentional in your choices,” said Kristin Arnold, President of Quality Process Consultants, Inc. “Choose an intriguing topic, pick a skilled moderator, select interesting and articulate panelists, create a lively format and engage your audience early and often.”
According to the report, having a skilled facilitator as the moderator is your best insurance policy to creating a successful panel. Have you ever witnessed “out of control” panelists? When you have a skilled moderator, the panelists will be less likely to get out of control.
The panelists you select should be “DEEP”:
- Diverse panelists have different points of view and represent the diversity in the audience.
- Experienced panelists are experts who are knowledgeable in the topic area.
- Eloquent panelists are able to express their ideas well in a public forum.
- Prepared panelists are willing to do the necessary preparation in support of the audience and the promise.
Planners also need to consider updating the format of the discussion. Traditional panel formats have become boring for audiences. They don’t need to be! Jazz it up by moving away from the typical formats: Q&A Style, Initial Remarks Style and Presentation Style. Reinvigorate your panel format to engage and entertain your audience. Arnold offers a few ways to “spice up your panel discussions:”
Ditch the Table!
Ditch the lectern too. Remove the barriers between your moderator/panelists and the audience. Doing so will make it easier to open the lines of communication, engaging your audience early and often.
Arnold also recommends that you keep your panelists on their toes by providing uncomfortable chairs, such as bar stools. You don’t want your panelists getting too comfy and cozy. Switch things up for your audience as well. Theater or classroom style seating is what you’ll typically find at a panel discussion. Switch it up with table rounds. This will also help to encourage conversation with the audience.
Create a visual variety with posters, slideshows, interesting backdrops and even music. The upbeat music and imagery will get your audience thinking differently from the start, a surefire way to let them know this panel is going to be good!
Create a spicy title!
The right title, one that helps carry the theme throughout your panel discussion, will intrigue your attendees. Does it resonate with your audience? Are you giving them the inside story, much like a magazine or newspaper headline?
Vary the format!
And do so throughout the entire discussion. Consider mimicking a talk show format. Whatever you do, make it fascinating. According to BBC News, “The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds - the same as a goldfish.”
Start off strong. Show a video, take a poll, start a social media hashtag. And then every six minutes, infuse something interesting. Ask the panelists yes/no/maybe questions or one sentence response questions. Let them go off on a 20 second rant. Take a question from the audience. If you want the audience to interact, you have to inject variety.
Engage the audience!
Think about what gets you engaged and then apply that to the audience. Encourage the moderator and panelists to mingle before the session begins. During the session, don’t just feed information for 40 minutes. Keep the audience interacting and involved from beginning to end.
Finally, Stimulate discussion!
Your panelists should be communicating with each other during the session. Most importantly, they should only be additive to the questions and discussions, not repetitive. If they’re all repeating the same answer, what value is added for the audience? Your skilled moderator will be key to this aspect of the panel discussion.
One way to keep things interesting is to provide an empty seat next to the panelists. Invite anyone from the audience to be a panelist. They can come up, take a seat and state their piece for a moment. You will need a strong, skilled moderator to keep this moving along though.
Keep things lively to stimulate the discussions. Curate questions, ask for questions, walk into the audience. You want discussion throughout between the audience and the panelists.
Arnold is quick to point out that there is no perfect panel format. If it resonates with your audience, your topic and you and your style, then you are pretty close to perfection. To get there, change up the traditional, and often boring, panel discussion with the intentional and deliberate mix of the right people (panelists and moderator) and great content that serves the audience’s agenda.
Download the report at no charge at www.PowerfulPanels.com/report/. While you’re there, take advantage of the free, 7-part video e-course based on the book Powerful Panels: A Step-by-Step Guide to Moderating Panels at Meetings, Conferences and Conventions.
Kristin Arnold, MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP is President of Quality Process Consultants, Inc. specializing in high stakes meeting facilitation, high performance teams and professional panel moderation. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action and Powerful Panels: A Step-by-Step Guide to Moderating Panels at Meetings, Conferences and Conventions. Kristin is also the past president of the US National Speakers Association and on the Executive Development Faculty in the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.