Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Better Panel Discussions

Perfecting the panel discussion can feel like a dark art, but it doesn’t have to. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Panel discussions—already a challenge to get right—have only gotten more complicated in the virtual format.

But just because panels have a reputation for being a bit dry doesn’t mean you can’t consider new ideas to keep them fresh and vibrant.

(One thing you should consider? Avoiding the “manel,” an all-male panel, something that the nonprofit GenderAvenger focuses on.)

With that in mind, here are some discussion points on panels from the archives:

Meetings Pro Tip: The Power of Props. In this article, professional meetings facilitator and founder of Powerful Panels, Kristin Arnold, offers a useful trick for those looking to build engagement with panels in a virtual format: Add some props, just like many popular TV panel shows do. “Most people will agree that event design is more like event production,” Arnold said. “You know, we’re looking more like TV shows.”

Five Steps to a Truly Engaging, Lively Leadership Discussion. This piece by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, highlights how she managed a panel of four female CEOs, each discussing her leadership style during the pandemic. “Although the discussion probably appeared organic from an attendee’s perspective, this conversational panel was the result of significant pre-planning and collaboration with the panelists,” she wrote.

A New Twist on the Panel Discussion. This 2015 piece highlights the way that ACPA–College Student Educators International reinvented its panel discussions by creating Idea Generator, a session format that allows audience members to “tap out” panel members so they can take their place—and offer their takes.

Seven Ways to Improve Panel Presentations. This piece by Beth Brooks, CAE, executive director of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians, discusses (among other things) the role of moderators in making a panel discussion feel more worthwhile. “Without a skilled moderator who knows the subject matter and has the tact and confidence to manage a discussion with multiple participants, a panel session can quickly run off the rails,” Brooks wrote.

#Ideas17: Take Cues From Pop Culture to Power Up Your Panel Discussions.‌ This piece, highlighting a session from the 2017 ASAE Great Ideas Conference, featured Powerful Panels’ Arnold discussing the ways that popular TV shows—including sitcoms and talk shows—can inspire the design of your format. “I’m going to suggest that we spend as much time working on our panels as picking our main-stage speakers,” she said.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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