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In praise of panel sessions

Panels can be a great addition to events.

Fast-paced and generally more interesting than “talking head segments,” panel sessions are popular because they can display an intriguing cast of characters and create some memorable moments.

As a presenter or speaker, you qualify for both panelist and moderator.

Panel assignments don’t have the cache of keynotes, but there’s not nearly as much pressure to deliver.

Here’s how to make the most of panel opportunities.

Advice for panel members

Here are some tips for being a better panelist:

  • Always try to have a conversation with the moderator in advance of the session. Real-time dialog helps you understand the moderator’s conversational rhythm and personality.

  • If you’re on a panel, remember to keep your answers short and try not to chew too much scenery. Your goal is to compliment the ensemble, not dominate it.

  • Promote the panel session in the same way you promote a keynote. It’s still you on the speaking platform. Tag your fellow members and they will love you.

  • Remember that the audience is looking at you the entire time, not just when you’re speaking. Keep your “tells” and other body movements to a minimum. Try to nod and smile when appropriate. In other words, appear lifelike.

Tips for panel moderators

Here's how to rock it as a panel moderator:

  • It’s okay to supply a list of potential questions to the panelists in advance, but the best panel moments occur during the session’s spontaneous interaction. Be alert for communicative moments, such as when Panelist A wants to respond to Panelist B.

  • The best programs employ a combination of easy, “softball” questions (“Dr. Smith, please share about the types of self-esteem issues people are struggling with”) sprinkled with a few provocative queries (“Do you think women have more self-esteem issues than men?”).

  • Ask one question at a time (“Dr. Smith, tell us a bit about your background, please”) versus cluster inquiries (“Dr. Smith, tell us about your background, why you got into the business and give us your current observations in the industry today").

  • Never make your question longer than the answer.

  • Be hyper aware of time and also the temperature and tone of the content. Good moderators are able to adjust all of the above in real time by using levity, changing the pace of the conversation and even re-ordering the questions.

  • Manage questions from the audience with simple “pre-calls” such as:

1. We only have time for three or four questions

2. Please direct your question to a particular panelist

3. Thanks in advance for keeping your question brief

  • Finally, a good moderator always has the panelists' backs and will never let them look bad.

We're all learning

What's your best advice when it comes to serving on panels?


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