8 Tips to Improve Panel Discussions Immediately

PanelPanel discussions aim to bring content experts together to discuss a specific topic. They are popular for conferences and business meetings as conferences and meeting planners perceive them as a way of delivering more content in less time.

Unfortunately, panel discussions have a number of drawbacks. In fact, Harvard Business Review weighed in a few months ago:

"The panel discussion was invented by someone who liked to sit three feet above his audience, talk with five of his closest friends for an hour, and barely acknowledge that there are 100 other people in the room, usually sitting in uncomfortable chairs."

How To Moderate a Panel Like a Pro, Harvard Business Review, May 30, 2013

Panel Pitfalls

  • The eyes of attendees tend to glaze over as many panels just aren't very interactive.
  • The time for questions is usually too brief.
  • Each panelist has limited air time so it's challenging to cover any topic in-depth.
  • At conferences, educational panels are more and more being replaced with mini-sales pitches by major sponsors.

    (A better way to handle sponsor presentations is to schedule them over dessert during meetings that include lunch or offer them as campfires or knowledge pods on the trade show floor. Attendees who have an interest in the services can spend more time with sponsors.)

The following tips will immediately improve the effectiveness of panels at your next meeting or conference.

8 Tips to Improve Panels Immediately

  1. Offer fewer panels. Replace them with more interactive formats.
  2. Avoid panels for very large audiences.
  3. Use panels for smaller audiences and breakout sessions so that meaningful interaction is possible.
  4. Schedule panels first thing in the morning when attendees are most alert.
  5. Reduce panel size to give each panelist more air time.
  6. Give each panelist an opportunity to make a brief presentation in order to deliver meaningful content.
  7. Avoid just asking "Any questions?" and transitioning immediately to the question period. Analytical learners and introverts need thinking time.
  8. Pause and give attendees 5 minutes to reflect on what was presented in pairs or small groups and formulate questions.  

For more tips, check out 5 Ingredients for a Dazzling Panel Discussion The Trouble with Couches for Conference Stage Sets and  ACTRA Toronto Role Models Interactive Annual Meetings.

Photo Credits: Meeting Facilitators, Executive Oasis International

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