How to Host a Killer Panel Discussion
No good event is complete without a panel discussion, because it provides a great way to create a dialogue between speakers and audience members and it can also enable you to get to the bottom of what attendees are truly interested in.
Done well, panel discussions don’t just give you a snapshot of what’s coming up in the future of your industry — they actively help to shape it, bringing together the right people and fostering an environment in which innovation takes center stage and ideas can be freely exchanged.
But how exactly can you set yourself up for success when hosting a panel discussion? Have no fear, because we’ve got you covered with these top tips.
1. Choose the right topic
This is perhaps the most fundamental thing of all, if you don’t get this one right then you can forget about the rest. Getting the topic right will help to ensure that people are interested enough in your panel to check it out. You need to get the balance just right, ensuring that it’s specific enough to guide the discussion while simultaneously being broad enough to leave some wiggle room and to encourage questions.
2. Choose the right panelists
The next step is to ensure that you have the right panelists, because these experts will be responsible for keeping the discussion going. They need to know their subject matter like the backs of their hands because, while the moderator will guide the discussion to a certain extent, the panelists will need to respond to questions and provide insightful contributions.
3. Choose the right moderator
Building on the last point, the moderator that you choose will help to keep the discussion going and act in many ways as the face of the panel discussion. Moderating a panel discussion requires a totally different set of skills to speaking, and you ideally want someone without an ego so that they’ll be happy to step back and let the conversation flow, only stepping in when they’re needed to bring things back on topic. If you get it wrong, you risk having a moderator who talks so much that they might as well have been a panelist, or, at the other extreme, one who allows the conversation to roam off topic, unchecked.
4. Throw the discussion open to questions
This is the way to get engagement between the panelists and the audience. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to allocate up to half of your time to audience questions and half or more of it to a more linear discussion that’s facilitated by your moderator.
5. Do your prep
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” This is particularly true for a panel discussion because you need to ensure that you’ve prepped the speakers, planned out the discussion, and prepared plenty of questions that your moderator can use to help to shape the dialogue.
6. Have a decent sound technician
There’s nothing worse than going to a panel discussion and not being able to hear the discussion clearly. If you’re watching online and the sound sucks, you can just close your browser window. If you’re there in person, it’s a lot harder to just sneak out. Don’t leave your attendees feeling trapped in a room with no idea what’s being said on stage. Hire a professional sound guy to help you out and to make sure that people can hear clearly no matter what part of the room they’re sitting in.
7. Consider live translation
Live translation can be a great way to make an event more accessible when you’re welcoming international guests, and it’s particularly important when you’re in a country where more than one language is spoken. It’s relatively easy to carry out live translation, but can be laborious, you’ll need to hire or buy plenty of headsets for people, for instance. Therefore consider hiring a provider who can do all the hard work for you.
8. Don’t sell
As tempting as it can be to use a panel as an excuse to promote your company and services, that’s a big no-no and a quick way to ensure that people tune out and stop listening to what you’re saying. As an organizer, It’s important for you to avoid this, but it’s even more important to make this clear to your moderator and your speakers. The discussion should focus on education and information, not on sales.
9. Ask for feedback
After the event is over, be sure to ask people for their feedback so that you can improve your next panel discussion. Your attendees can provide the kind of unbiased feedback that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere, and considering that they’re the people that your discussion is catering to in the first place, it’s more important to act on their feedback than it is to act on what you personally think may be needed.
10. Provide attendees with a summary
There are several different ways to do this, and the right approach will depend upon the event, and on the attendees’ communication preferences. If you’re filming the event, then you can send registrants a link to the recording, but it’s also a good idea to spend some time summarizing key points and creating a written version that you can send out for them to read through, too. Try to do this within a few days of the event because that will help to ensure that the discussion is still fresh in people’s memories.
Now that you know just a few of our top tips for hosting a killer panel discussion at your next event, we want to hear from you. Have you hosted a panel discussion at one of your events? If so, how did it go, and what worked well and not so well?
We’d love to keep the discussion going and to continue the dialogue, so be sure to let us know in the comments. We’ll see you soon in another article!
This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.