Death to Panels

On a recent #astdchapters leader chat, I went off on my usual rant about panel discussions.  I don’t like panel presentations. Many professional associations over rely on this programming approach; it’s lazy. Most panels are haphazard collections of too many members and a moderator with little or no preparation. The end result is a non-cohesive program that leaves us scratching our heads, “just what was all that about?” For me, a single or co-presenter program is the best approach for learning.  Conferences use the single/co-presenter approach for sessions. When was the last time you saw a general session with a panel?

Panels can work with expert moderation and a small number, four or less. [Side note – attended SoCon11, 90-minute discussion with six panelists (seven were scheduled) with Q&A, see my earlier thoughts here] The moderator must organize the panelists well before the presentation date; outline the topic, program objectives and how it relates to the audience; identify three/four points; coordinate and collaborate on these points and set time limits and cues. The moderator must to step in and control since he/she is the audience advocate.

If you must here’s some suggestions for panels:

  • Have each panelist give a petcha kucha presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide)
  • Have each panelist prepare and deliver an elevator pitch
  • Have each panelist create a haiku or limerick

Be creative, have a forceful, expert moderator. Insist that the panelists to have some skin in the game, be prepared and perform.

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3 Responses to Death to Panels

  1. Don, Generally I agree on your verdict “death to panels.” However, I have been part of at least one panel that was powerful — live and recorded — accessed by viewers in 72 countries. Why did it work? First, the presenters were not only content experts (and their credentials were published well ahead of the panel), but expert communicators. They followed the rules, engaged with each other, as well as with the moderator, and added value to each others’ input (as well as occasionally disagreeing, another great method for engagement). As you indicate, it can be done if you’re willing to work on it. And using a panel is one way of getting some top notch people who simply don’t want to prepare for a full-blown presentation, but are willing to share ideas less formally.

  2. dbolen says:

    Thanks Peggy, we also see this on the Sunday news round tables. A prepared and forceful moderator manages the discussion. Sadly panels at the local association level hope is often substituted for preparation.

  3. Jack Massa says:

    Good post, Don. I think the operative word is “lazy.” As you say, panels work best when the speakers prepare together and the moderator coordinates the presenation. But this takes way more work than throwing out a few questions and hoping something good will happen.

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