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Ten Secrets to Running a Panel Discussion

Panel discussions are a feature of many Conference and Convention agendas and it’s often the role of the MC to moderate or facilitate the discussion.

Here are some tips –


# Remember, “it’s not about you!”  Your role is to  encourage the free flowing discussion, but also keeping it on track and importantly on time.

# Make sure the panel knows what time you are going to finish and subtly bring this up at the 5 minute to go mark. I also let the audience know if appropriate.

# Do you really need to go into lengthy introductions? Time zooms by in most Panel discussions, why waste it in lengthy intros.

# A “holding slide” featuring the panel member and their role can work well. Then a slide of all the panel members.

# Get out from behind the Panel Table!  A nice array of chairs or stools means closer connection between the panel members themselves and between them and their audience.

# Mix things up a bit.  Why do Q & A at the end?

# Keep the audience involved. Poll them at certain points.

# Create “table discussions” and then get feedback from a few and then ask the panel to comment on that feedback. This process works well if the audience are shy in asking questions. They are usually happy to chat around a table.

# Get Context –  If questions or comments are coming from the floor it’s nice to know who the person asking the question is and their role. This can provide context for the panel to answer more appropriately.

# Be prepared to be firm with the audience. If the conversation gets too heated or inappropriate, be prepared to step in and then move on. “I think we can agree to disagree on that.” “That is probably beyond the scope of our discussion today.”  And follow with your own question.

# On the other hand, be prepared to step back when the conversation is lively and free flowing.

# Wrapping Up. It’s nice to get a quick comment from each panel member right near the end. Perhaps – Big Challenge for the next year? Action Steps for the audience members, Key Points etc

# Being comfortable with running sessions in this format is a skill. It’s also a good selling point. You add value to the event by being able to run these sessions, so make sure you mention it in your promotional material as a benefit of booking you.

Facilitation Resources –

Two great books I recommend

The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook: Tips, Tools, and Tested Methods for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches

The Secrets of Facilitation: The SMART Guide to Getting Results with Groups

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Joyce Daniels August 1, 2014, 11:01 am

    Timothy Hyde, you are indeed a blessing. Keep flying high….

  • Brent Gifford August 28, 2014, 4:03 am

    I am blind and have been performing magic for over 40 yers mostly in comedy clubs and libraries. I think it’s time I grow up and make a difference bifore I croak , do you have any suggestions

    • Mr Hyde September 1, 2014, 6:27 am

      Brent, thanks for the note

      Jane Atkinson has a great book called The Wealthy Speaker which I always suggest to people. But guess what, it also comes as a CD set. http://www.speakerlauncher.com

      Also The National Speakers Association NSA has an online audio program called VOE – Voices of experience. You can actually listen to it online or via an app. I don’t have the URL but could probably find it

  • Brent Gifford August 28, 2014, 4:13 am

    what is motivational speaking and how does it differ from inspirational speaking. Is is just symantics?

    • Mr Hyde September 1, 2014, 6:29 am

      There is quite some debate about this.
      Some people argue that Inspirational speakers make you do things, Motivational Speakers make you do things differently, eg change behaviour

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