I like panel discussions because they are usually more dynamic than individual performances and allow for informal interaction with the audience, potentially a highly relevant, engaging and enriching experience.

Earlier today, I attended a conference that featured a panel discussion which turned out to be a complete fiasco, boring and uninformative.  It really did not have to be this way, and on my way home, I  decided to put together a few points on creating and running a great panel discussion.

So, here we go…

If you are the organizer/ moderator

  • Invite panelists who understand the subject and can carry on an intelligent conversation
  • It is best to have a panel with diverse opinions because it makes the conversation so much more interesting
  • Have a topic.
  • Don’t make it any shorter than 30 minutes
  • Very briefly introduce the participants at the beginning. Don’t read their bios, just a couple of sentences will do. 
  • Pose the first question
  • Do not take sides, offer your opinion or go into lengthy monologues.  You are not on the panel
  • Prior to the event, advise the panel participants on the rules (see below), the topic (obviously) and the schedule
  • People in the audience often offer opinions, which is perfectly ok. However,  lengthy monologues should be cut short with an invitation ask the question. Don’t be shy
  • Ditto for panelists – if they go on, tell them to get to the point
  • Watch the time and finish as scheduled.

If you are a panelist

  • Give pithy, memorable responses to questions. Do not get into monologues, this is not the point of it
  • This is about the audience, not you. Do not brag or sell – it stinks
  • Avoid sounding smug
  • Don’t feel constrained to answer every question posed to the panel
  • Don’t repeat what has already been said by other panelists. If you cannot add a fresh perspective, pass
  • Speak the language appropriate for the audience
  • It is ok to disagree with other panelists
  • Engage the audience into a dialogue
  • Be genuinely interested.