Many communications professionals must develop panel discussions for annual meetings, conferences, workshops or scientific assemblies. Sound simple? Like all events, the devil is in the details.
During four years on Washington Women in Public Relations Board of Directors, PRofessional Solutions’ Managing Director Melanie Jordan planned more than 50 professional development events–many of them panel presentations. Here are some of her best practices for creating successful panel discussions.
- Select panelists with a diversity of opinions on the topic, are eloquent and recognized as experts in the field. When identifying panelists, review videos of previous presentations to find dynamic guests.
- Choose an experienced moderator with the strength to control the event and prevent a panelist from derailing the discussion. Provide the moderator with some questions to ask during the panel discussion and to have on hand in case Q & A is slow to start.
- When issuing an invitation to a panelist, be very specific about his or her role in the discussion. Send a group email to panelists assigning separate topic areas for their participation, thus avoiding redundancy in remarks. Outline the program logistics, amount of time for each panelist’s opening points (no more than a few minutes) and allotted time for Q & A with the audience.
During the program…
- Encourage social media interaction. Prepare a slide to be shown behind the dais or place a handout on audience chairs with social media hashtags and handles for your organization, the event, and the speakers and provide guest Wi-Fi information. In addition, print panelists’ Twitter handles on dais nameplates to encourage live tweeting during the event.
- Don’t waste precious time with lengthy introductions of the moderator and speakers. Simply state their name, title and organization and include their bios and links to their LinkedIn profiles on program information and publicity.
Pitfalls to avoid…
- Never choose more than four panelists; a higher number becomes unwieldy and doesn’t allow speakers enough time to adequately showcase their opinions.
- To hold audience attention, don’t exceed 90 minutes. An hour is better, with 40 minutes for the panel discussion and 20 minutes for Q & A with the audience.
- Prevent embarrassing optics. Ensure that the dais table has a skirt for female panelists in skirts. If you’re placing presenters on stools, warn female panelists in advance so they can wear slacks; a stool is difficult to maneuver in a skirt.