The subject of discussion is usually relevant to the industry. A moderator guides the direction of the conversation and takes questions from the audience.
Organizing an interesting panel discussion comes with a lot of pre-planning if you want it to be engaging. Just like every other event, lack of planning is a recipe for disaster.
Running a successful panel discussion is determined by many essential factors, which will depend on your topic, venue, panelists, moderator, and the overall structure of the event.
If you want to learn more about organizing an interesting panel discussion, let’s get started.
Tips for Organizing a Successful Panel Discussion
The following tips are required when organizing a panel discussion:
Choose an Interesting Topic
Your topic of choice for the panel discussion should be interesting and relevant to a trending issue. It will be able to provoke conversation among the panelists and thus make for an interesting debate that will be beneficial to the audience.
The topic should be specific, focused, and tailored to align with the relevant issue to avoid the panelists going off tangent.
Select Your Panelists
Selecting members of your panel beforehand is an important ingredient needed in facilitating a successful panel discussion. The panelists should be thought-leaders or experts on the subject of discussion, and they should be no more than five. If you have so many people talking about the same topic, it can get boring and the discussion may become unnecessarily long.
Ensure that you collect accurate information about them to know their level of expertise, knowledge, experience, and background in the selected subject.
If possible, have a brief meeting with them about the panel discussion. This will also provide an opportunity to pick their brains to know which part of the subject gets them excited or what they are more specialized in. It is also an avenue for them to interact with other panelists to form a close connection thereby making a smooth conversation possible.
Pick Out a Moderator
This step is pivotal to the overall positive outcome of the panel discussion. Your moderator should be engaging, empathetic, and skilled in interpersonal communication. A witty moderator will make the panel discussion exciting, and it should be someone that does not love the sound of their own voice.
They should bear in mind that their role is to lead the direction of the conversation and not to criticize, argue or refute what a panelist has said.
They should be effective and firm to avoid giving a panelist free rein to dominate the conversation.
Also, plan a brief meeting with the moderator and the panelists to establish a close rapport among themselves.
Prepare the Questions
From having these conversations, you can have an idea of the questions you can ask each panelist. Let them get comfortable with the questions so as not to be taken unawares. Email 2-3 questions to them and ask if there is any other one they feel comfortable discussing. If they send in some suggestions, you can include them in your line of questions.
Arrange the Discussion Room Properly
The sitting arrangement in the discussion room should be comfortable for the panelists. The moderator should sit in the middle of the panelists.
At the beginning of the panel session, the moderator should lead the introduction; they should introduce the subject of discussion and the panelists. The introductory remarks should be very brief and not a lengthy rambling. It should also be interesting to get the audience hooked. A boring introduction may make the audience lose interest. At this point, the audience should be informed about when they can participate.
When introducing the panelist, make sure you put each of them at ease by saying something personal or witty about them, that way, it will make them comfortable in case any of them is nervous.
When talking about the topic, please provide brief information about it to build the interest of the audience in the conversation.
Encourage Panel Interactions
There is a need to choose a moderator that will know when to ask follow-up questions based on what a panelist has said; this will encourage the provision of a deeper insight into the subject by the panelists.
The Moderator Should Be in Control
Not only moderators can get carried away by the sound of their own voice, it can also happen to a panelist. That is why the moderator needs to be firm in to ensure that a panelist doesn't dominate the conversation.
Make sure the moderator has some polite cut-off phrases in handy to interrupt a speaker who is going off-topic or rambling. If possible, tell them beforehand about these cut-off phrases the moderator will employ.
Reserve Time for a Q & A Session
To encourage the audience to participate in the discussion, you need to allocate time for a Q & A session. It is better to reserve one microphone for the audience and have a volunteer, if possible, walk around the room with the microphone to hand it to anyone that has a question.
Before then, let them know the time allotted for each question, the number of questions an individual can ask, and any other rules of engagement.
If an audience member has an irrelevant or embarrassing question for the panelist, the moderator needs to skip the question. They should not entertain such questions.
After the Q & A session, there have to be closing remarks. If there is still time, let the panelists state their final thoughts on the said topic.
The moderator will then round off with a vote of thanks to everyone for being a part of the conversation, including the audience.
Organizing a successful panel discussion may not be a walk in the park, but when you follow these simple tips, half of the job is done.