Panel discussions at conferences, meetings, and events are typically polarizing.
- Attendees hated it and found it a bore
- Attendees loved it and didn’t want it to end
A few moderates in the crowd will say, “It was OK” which is code for it stunk.
And … the majority of people for any given panel discussion will all feel the same. They either all loved it! Or they all hated it.
So that brings me to these two rules.
- If you intend to hold a panel discussion, plan it correctly.
- If you don’t intend to plan your panel discussion, then skip it.
Here are the five things critical to planning a successful panel discussion and the order in which they need to be addressed.
- Everything else
Let’s look at each one individually.
One person (or a small group) needs to set the vision for the panel. Answer this question, “Why is a panel discussion going to be held?” The vision will define what the panel discussion will be and the result that will occur.
e.g. Our panel discussion will focus on the best practices to effectively plan panel discussions at conferences, meetings, and events. The discussion will educate and engage attendees so they’ll be better able to plan their own panel discussions in the future.
The moderator will make or break the panel discussion. The right moderator must first buy 100% into the vision. The moderator will then take 100% responsibility for fulfilling that vision. The moderator will fill in the presentation details, work on the objectives, and ensure that panelists are in place and up-to-speed.
Get a moderator who buys into the vision and is prepared to take 100% responsibility for the success of the panel discussion.
The visionaries and the moderator now must define the objectives. I suggest three. Three is a good number because it will force the discussion to keep moving while not attempting to accomplish too much. People’s brains work well in patterns of three. One or two is too few and risks getting mired in minutia. Four or five is too many, will need to go too fast, and will become confusing to attendees.
Establish three main objectives that the moderator and the vision team agree on completely.
Now it’s time to find the best panelists to fulfill the objectives. Look for experts, known leaders, and influencers. Find people with strong and/or contrary opinions. I don’t believe it’s necessary or appropriate to rehearse the panel in advance, but I do believe it’s critical that each panelist be well informed and aware of the vision and objectives. It’s the moderator’s responsibility to communicate with each panelist in advance.
Build your expert panel with people capable of clearly articulating strong positions. Provide them with the necessary information to succeed.
5. Everything Else
More advance planning and details.
- Select a good (catchy) title
- Placement of the panel discussion within the overall agenda of the conference
- Marketing and promotion
- Logistics / format (setting, lighting, microphones) – will the panelists be able to be seen and heard?
- Support – everything else necessary to ensure success
Don’t forget to take care of everything else.
Making the decision to hold a panel discussion during your conference, meeting or event should be made only if you’re committed to planning it correctly.
A lot of planning, work, and effort must occur in advance so that when your panel discussion is held:
- It looks like a great group of people enjoying themselves
- They are having an informative and spirited conversation
- Attendees are spell-bound
Otherwise, attendees will think it boring at best and a complete waste of their time at worst.
This post was originally published on SpeakingGump.com on March 1, 2016.
It has been updated and edited to appear here on ChangeByGumption.com
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