You’ve probably been to a business conference and seen a panel discussion. Some are entertaining and informative. But others are uncoordinated, hard to follow and the panelists seem ill-prepared. In short, these are a waste of time for conference attendees and often public speaking disasters.
If you are asked to participate in a panel discussion, you’ll want you and your fellow panelists to shine. Following are some tips to make sure your panel presentation is a success.
But first, we need to understand what a panel is not and what it is.
What a Panel Discussion Is Not
I’ve been to many conferences where an event is billed as “a panel discussion.” The panelists sit side by side and pass a microphone from one to the other as they each talk about their area of expertise. This is not a panel discussion. This is a series of mini-presentations.
What a Panel Discussion Is
Panel discussions require the presence of a skilled moderator to direct a structured conversation. The moderator should begin by describing the purpose of the discussion and introducing the panel members. The moderator then launches the discussion by directing a question to one or more of the participants. At the conclusion of the discussion, the moderator may then direct questions from the audience. The moderator also will present a concluding statement. Just as we advise for a solo presentation, the conclusion should come after the Q&A.
How to Prepare
Before the presentation, the moderator should circulate an outline and explain the ground rules to the panel participants. From the outline, the panelists will have an idea of the main questions that will be asked. They will provide unscripted answers and the moderator may ask follow-up questions. When one panelist answers a question, others may politely chime in. In other words, it’s a conversation.
When preparing remarks for a panel discussion, or when preparing to serve as a moderator, consider the following:
- Who is your audience? What do they know about the topic? What ideas can be emphasized to encourage greater understanding?
- What aspects of the topic will each participant address? What are their areas of expertise?
- How much time is allotted for the Q&A?
- Which key points should be reviewed in your conclusion?
Rather than having people sit in a row, consider having them arranged in a semi-circle to facilitate dialogue. The accompanying photo, from the McGlaughlin Group TV show, depicts such an arrangement.
By following these tips, you can put together a lively and informative panel discussion.