Chances are, we’ve all been to conferences where there are panel discussions. And many of us have likely even served as panelists in these sessions. But are they a useful format to build engagement and foster discussion with and among the audience?
Kristin Arnold, president and founder of Quality Process Consultants and The Extraordinary Team, is a professional panel moderator with over two decades experience as a high-stakes meeting facilitator. She has spent the past several years focused specifically on how to make panels more effective, most of which is highlighted in her recent book, Powerful Panels: A Step-by-Step Guide to Moderating Lively and Informative Panel Discussions.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Kristin about the different formats for panel discussions, what makes a good panel, and ways to increase their effectiveness.
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00:20 – Thank you to YourMembership, sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the first quarter of 2017. YourMembership’s learning management system (LMS) is specifically designed for professional education with a highly flexible and intuitive system that customizes the learning experience. YourMembership’s LMS seamlessly integrates with key systems to manage all of your educational content formats in one central location while providing powerful tools to create and deliver assessments, evaluations and learning communities.
01:26 – The recordings from our recent Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD) virtual conference (held March 1–3, 2017), are now available. We created LTD specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development and you can register to get access to all of the great content delivered at the live online event at ltd.leadinglearning.com.
01:48 – Highlighted Resource of the Week – The Speaker Report – (created by Tagoras in collaboration with Velvet Chainsaw) aimed at better understanding how organizations use professional and industry speakers at their meetings/conferences/other events, how they select them, what they expect from them, and how their educational impact is measured. We are also highlighting The Panel Report (this episode’s guest, Kristin Arnold, created this out of inspiration from The Speaker Report), which gives data and insights regarding the effectiveness of panel discussions at meetings/conferences/conventions. Note that both reports are free.
02:57 – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews professional panel expert and author, Kristin Arnold.
04:12 – Introduction to Kristin and some information about her background and how she got started in panel moderation.
06:31 – Besides a lack of information out there, was there anything else that led you to focus particularly on the panel format, given your broader experience in facilitation and moderating? Kristin shares it’s because panels are such a great format when they’re done right. Some initial research she did about panels showed that out of a group of executives/meeting organizers, 68% thought panels were “okay or worse.” This showed that panels were a crapshoot and she notes that it can be a lazy format because meeting organizers simply create a topic description, find a moderator and some panelists, and then walk away.
08:02 – Kristin defines “panel” as a specific meeting format that typically consists of a moderator and several thought leaders or practitioners within a company/industry and it’s usually a conversation that lasts for about 45-90 minutes. The format usually consists of some introductory remarks, moderated Q&A, Q&A with the audience, and a summary. She emphasizes that panels often end up becoming presentations/mini-presentations without time for Q&A, which defeat the purpose of having a panel. The reason it can be such a rich format is because of the potential for discussion amongst the panelists and with the audience.
10:25 – Kristin shares some common types or sub-genres of panels:
- Main stage panel – most typical and includes a panel discussion with main speakers, usually not with time for audience Q&A, although you can add that if you want
- Initial remarks style – each panelist has 2-3 minutes to give information and then you go into moderated questions and Q&A from the audience.
- Presentation style – (Kristin’s least favorite and she doesn’t recommend it) – people give longer presentations
11:53 – Kristin talks about a less common format that you can really have fun with:
- Talk Show format – mimic a popular talk show that your audience is familiar with (e.g. Jimmy Fallon, The View, etc.) and use similar visual and process elements
12:56 – Are there situations or topics that seem particularly well suited to a panel format? Or, conversely, are there situations and topics where a panel is inappropriate or destined to be bad? Kristin explains the best kind of panels have some kind of controversy to them, which means there are differences of opinion. She says panel audience tend to be in a passive mode but you can still build in engagement and interest, even if there isn’t controversy. Kristin also shares an example of a time she’s done this and adds that panels are neat way of giving people a window – in a conversational way – to get information they can’t get any place else.
16:57 – There are three key players that determine how a panel pans out—the moderator, the panelists, and the audience. You write and talk a lot about the role of the moderator and the panelists and how to improve their parts, but are there things we can do to help the audience members be better participants in a panel? Kristin recommends preparing the audience and says you can use social media to get them interested/excited and ask them questions. Also, because people have such low expectations of panels, think about what you can do visually/emotionally/auditory as people walk into the room that’s going to let them know that this is going to be different. For example, the panelists could be mingling with the audience (rather than sitting at the front), you could use question cards on chairs, or put instructions on the screen saying you’re using meeting technology to solicit their questions. Essentially, you need to get people engaged right off the bat – you don’t have to wait until the panel actually starts.
19:35 – What common mistakes or missteps do you see with panels? Kristin references The Panel Report where she collected the 10 biggest pet peeves (from both the moderator and panelist side), the top 10 mistakes panelists make, and top 10 mistakes moderators make. Among the biggest pet peeves were having an ineffective moderator. A skilled moderator can help a panel shine that might not otherwise be that great. As a moderator, Kristin says her primary goal isn’t to make sure the panelists shine but to be a champion for the audience to make sure the panelists are delivering solid information. She adds that some panelists need to be steered in the right direction because often they may have their own agenda. In fact, one of the top 10 mistakes is that a panelist might get too promotional/self-serving.
23:05 – How do we overcome those mistakes? What are the best practices for preparing for a great panel? Kristin recommends that you:
- Select a good moderator
- Make sure the panelists come prepared – coach them to come prepared with the top 3 things they want to express to the audience, along with a clear and concise story to illuminate that point. Also ask them to share their 3 most Twitter-able sound bytes because it helps them focus in on what’s really important and what they want people to remember.
- Make sure there is a drumbeat of conversation – tell the panelists to be conversational and not try to be too perfect.
25:11 – In the time you’ve been working in facilitating meetings and moderating sessions, what changes have you seen? What did we used to do in panels or facilitation or moderation more broadly that we don’t do anymore? Kristin thinks we are still doing the same things, which is what she’s working on changing. She notes that audiences today want to be more engaged in the process and to see more of themselves. She says there are a lot of neat formats to do this, one of which is where one of the panelists is an empty chair (or all of the chairs are empty chairs – Celisa notes this was an approach used at 2016 Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD)), which means anyone from the audience can sit in that chair.
27:35 – Are there any big developments or changes you think are on the horizon related to panels? Kristin explains there are organizations on the leading edge of adult learning theory and they are trying new formats. She adds that it all depends on the audience (size, culture, etc.) so it’s about finding people who are willing to take risks. Kristin references some riskier formats but notes that some people may not like them. She’s trying to chronicle people who are trying new formats and creating the resource, 101 Ways to Add More Pizzazz to Your Panels.
30:43 – What’s your approach to your own lifelong learning and development? Kristin shares that in the panel world there isn’t much out there but she has Google alerts to let her know when anything about panels is written and she tries to get an appreciation for what other people are doing. She also reveals that she was inspired by something thought leader, Nat Church said which was that it’s best practice when reading other people’s stuff, to not ask yourself, “Yes, but?” but rather, “Yes, and?” Kristin adds that she’s a veracious reader, both of fiction and non-fiction.
32:33 – How to connect with Kristin:
Website: www.powerfulpanels.com – there is a free video course available here on how to moderate a panel
33:12 – Wrap Up
Thanks again to YourMembership for sponsoring this episode of the Leading Learning podcast.
A reminder that recordings from Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD) the virtual conference we held specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education and professional development, are now available. You can get all the details and register for access to those recordings at ltd.leadinglearning.com.
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35:16 – Sign off