5 Alternative Formats to Traditional Panels

Breakout PanelTransforming panel discussions from passive to interactive involves a change in mindset and an emphasis on quality and depth rather than quantity. Here are 4 alternatives to traditional panels. They open the door for more meaningful interaction between panelists and attendees.

1. Cracker Barrels or Table Tops

This format works well for small to medium meetings. Place a marker with large letters listing the topic to be covered on each table. At registration, instruct participants to sit at the table of the topic that interests them.

Panelists sit at participants tables. Each panelist gives a brief preview of their topic. Participants are given time to switch to a table of their choosing. After 30 minutes, there is another opportunity to switch tables.

2. "Speed Dating"

The set up is similar to cracker barrels but the panelists switch tables. Each table marker lists the two topics that will be covered. 

3. Preview Panels

Breakout session facilitators provide brief previews of their sessions. (One of the  4 Proven Formats for Short Presentations recently discussed might be useful.) Participants move to their breakout session where the topics of their choosing will be covered in greater depth.

4. Consultation/Live Case Panels

As part of the registration process or during a breakout session, give attendees a format to describe a real challenges that they are facing. Select 2 or 3 of them to present to the panel. After the panelists make their presentations, give each of the selected attendees time to present their situations and obtain advice. Transition to questions.

5. Review Panels

Participants provide an overview of what was covered in breakout sessions. Here is how it works:

  • During popular breakout sessions, time is allocated for participants to prepare brief summaries of highlights in small groups.
  • A spokesperson presents each summary.
  • The spokesperson with the best summary presents session highlights briefly at the closing plenary session.
  • The closing panel consists of the facilitators from popular breakout sessions.
  • Participants are asked to write down questions as they listen to participant summaries.
  • The floor is opened for questions from the audience and a discussion with the panelists (breakout session facilitators) before the closing keynote is delivered tying everything together. 

Panels are here to stay. With tweaking, they can become more interactive and effective.

For more tips, check out 8 Tips to Improve Panel Discussions Immediately, 5 Ingredients for a Dazzling Panel Discussion , 8 Tips for Building Better Breakouts and 5 Ways to Debrief Conference Breakouts Groups (Without Boring Participants).

Photo Credits: Meeting Facilitators, Executive Oasis International

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