We have all been there, stuck watching what seems like an endless panel, with panelists that drone on and on and on and on. There is no escaping the boring. What's worse, you walk away without any new insights or understanding. Basically the entire thing was a waste of time.
These horrible panel discussions make you never want to attend another panel, ever again. More than 63% of people say panel discussions are mediocre or worse, that's the find from a survey by Quality Process Consultant.
Kristin Arnold is the President of Quality Process Consultants. She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program there are ways to make panel discussions not only exciting but thought provoking too.
"It is deceptively easy to produce a panel. When they are done well they are fabulous. When they are a lazy format, if you don’t put the planning, preparation and intention out about picking a big topic that the audience cares about then they can be quite horrid," said Arnold.
The ingredients to a good panel:
Pick a topic that is of interest to the audience, not just the panelists
Have a skilled moderator or facilitator
Pick interesting and articulate panelists who have a message
"A lot of times we end up letting the panelist give a presentation instead of being a panelist," said Arnold. "Those presentations go too long or the introductions go too long, so the Q&A gets shortened at the end. Today’s audiences are demanding more interaction. The earlier you can get the audience involved, even before the panel discussion starts through social media efforts and find out what they really want to know, then you can have a lively and engaging conversation that provides value to the audience."
Limit the slide deck
"If you have a panelist who has more than one or two key slides that they want to show to illustrate a point, I might suggest this person actually deserves a speaking spot before the panel discussion," said Arnold. "If they have some value that the audience really needs to hear and listen to as a presentation then make that ahead of time. Don’t make that part of the panel discussion because if you do that you are sending a cue to the audience that we are not going to have a conversation here. Conversations are not about presentations."
Set the stage for conversation
"If you think about the talk shows that are really engaging, they are not sitting behind a white-draped table. They are usually sitting in nice, comfortable chairs. It is more chatty," said Arnold. "People want the real stuff, they don’t want to be talked at. They don’t want to be given the party line, they want to know what is behind the curtain. Give me the dirt. They want stuff that they can’t find on Google."
Use the prep-calls wisely
"The pre-conference call is to allow the panelists to understand the process that you are going to use. As the facilitator you are managing the process. You set the tone and the format. You say, ‘Here are the ground rules.' The content you save for later," said Arnold. "But as a good moderator, you need to do your homework. You need to research what the different positions are, what each panelist is bringing to the table, that way you know where to guide the conversation. You have to be the instigator to an exciting dialogue."
"Don’t lie to your audience. This is part of the job of the moderator is to set the tone and set the process in play. If you are going to save questions until the end, tell that to the audience. Treat them like adults," said Arnold.
Tap the audience
"Sometimes you know you have an expert in the audience. Why don’t you bring that person into the conversation? Or you can take a poll and say how many of you have experience this? Who has a best practice they would like to offer?" said Arnold.
The fine line on preparation:
- Key Insight: "There is a fine line between giving a nudge and being a pain in the butt. As a moderator I like to talk to each of the panelists to figure out what their perspective is. What are the three points that they are trying to make. If I get an awkward silence on the other end of the phone, then I know I have a little work to do. But if I have someone who looks like they have their act together, then I believe they have a depth of knowledge, that they have some experience, are eloquent and they are willing to do the work," said Arnold.
"What kills a panel is if you get panelists because they have a sexy resume and that's it. They also need to be articulate or they might not have the experience. You want to make sure you have a good and diverse panel. You don’t want all guys up there. Or one flavor of a personality," said Arnold. "Moderators should reach out to the audience, to let them know what they are looking from the panel."
Arnold says you know you have a good moderator when:
You get good references and testimonials
Watch them live or on video if you can
You can get a sense if they know what they are doing from your phone conversations with them
They are focused?
They are crisp in their thoughts
They link your thoughts with another person
"A facilitator has to be confident in the process, you have to be the champion of the audience."