by Emily Guinta, CLE Inc.
1. Stage Layout
6. Audio Technician
7. Audience Interaction
It seems there isn’t a conference that goes by without a panel discussion in at least one session. Panel discussions can deliver your message using different voices and expertise that provide an opportunity for audience interaction to your meeting.
Having a good plan in place is key to a successful panel session for your meeting or conference. Here are seven things to consider as you plan your next panel discussion:
Putting some thought into the stage set up for your panel is important. You want your panelists and moderator to enter the stage without obstacles and be comfortable, allowing them to focus on the topic being discussed. Consider the set up that will work for your content and audience. Will they walk onto stage as they are being introduced, or will you begin the session with panelists already in place? Should your panelists be seated at a table for a more formal setting or lounge chairs or possibly bar stools to create a casual environment for a more open discussion? Choose what works best for the size of your room, stage, and style of meeting.
Select a strong and credible moderator. The more confident your moderator, the more comfortable your panelists will be, leading to a successful discussion. It is a good idea to talk through the agenda, format, questions, and any guidelines you may have for the moderator a couple weeks in advance. This will give them the opportunity to prepare and ask you questions prior to your meeting.
Communication is the key to make any meeting run smoothly. Share details ahead of time with your moderator and panelists so they may be prepared and comfortable. These details should include everything from what to wear, how to keep the discussion on time, and even where the water will be. If the panelists will be sitting on bar stools, it’s a good idea to advise them to avoid wearing skirts. If you’re using lavalier mics, suggest wearing clothing that has a collar to easily attach a microphone. Avoid potentially awkward water situations by pointing out where each panelist’s water glass or bottle will be placed prior to the session starting.
Practice makes perfect. Schedule a rehearsal for your moderator and panelists. Giving them an opportunity to walk the stage and see where they will sit will make them feel comfortable and ensure the program runs flawlessly. Plan to have the rehearsal with your audio technician present. This will allow microphone levels to be adjusted to different voice levels.
You have options – tabletop, wireless lavalier, countryman, or passing a wireless handheld. Depending on your setup, your panelists, and your topics, the microphone choices could vary. This would be a good time to engage your event technology partner and ask for their recommendations.
Audio becomes a little more complex with anywhere from three to eight live microphones in one room. Switching between individual microphones on stage and then from the stage to the audience, frequencies and feedback can become an issue. Have an audio technician present during your session so they can adjust as needed throughout the session.
Will your panel discussion have audience interaction? If so, have a plan for getting those questions to your moderator and panelists. You could use wireless microphones on stands, a microphone runner, or depending on your audience, a throwable Catchbox microphone. There are even phone apps which allow attendees to submit questions. Using downstage monitors allows your moderator and panelists to see questions on a screen. This is another area to consult with your event technology partner.
Keeping in mind the goals and outcomes of your conference, and utilizing these tips, you will be on the road to planning a successful panel discussion!