When I had the opportunity to moderate a panel at a Chicago small business event, the first thing I did was reach out to Carol about how to do this well.
Carol is frequently asked to moderate events and panels, and she manages to keep things on track and engaging in a way that seems effortless.
However, and I found this out first hand, it takes A LOT of work to make a panel interesting for attendees. Something that seems effortless actually takes an incredible amount of effort.
This came to mind when I saw her post on LinkedIn:
Given Carol’s update, I thought I should re-post this helpful article she wrote on the topic, “How to Make Sure That Your Event Panel Doesn’t Suck”
Panels are a large part of almost every event. However, most panels don’t work. They are boring, lose audience focus and, typically, don’t deliver the results the event organizers have hoped. So, how do you put together the perfect panel?
Use a professional moderator: Event organizers who pay (or sometimes don’t) for speakers often skimp out when it comes to moderators. Hiring a professional moderator brings energy to the conversation and makes it a conversation, not a lecture. She also helps keep the flow of the discussion moving, and makes sure that the information is both informative and entertaining. This isn’t the place to skimp with a novice. You may want to have the same moderator moderate multiple panels to maximize your budget and bring continuity to the event.
Think twice about sponsor panelists: Events also often reward sponsors with positions on the panel. However, it doesn’t do the sponsor or the attendee any favors if the sponsor panelist isn’t good. A good panelist is knowledgeable and engaging. They understand that the event is about serving the audience and their answers reflect that. Try to minimize any sponsor panelists and choose those who will truly deliver. Instead, have sponsors introduce the moderators and panelists.
Prepare: A good event and moderator will prepare for the panel in advance. This includes prepping panel members on expectations for the panelists, circulating questions in advance and soliciting feedback on which questions each panelist finds most and least comfortable. In addition, it should provide the panelists a sense of flow for the event.
Keep answers short, but focused: Event attendees want to get access to information. However, some panelists forget and just want to talk about themselves or their business. Answers should be robust enough to provide information, but short enough to allow for multiple responses. Also, stories are effective and engaging if they are delivered in a focused manner. Again, the moderator and panelists should always remember that the point of the panel is to impart information to the attendees.
Have good sound: You can have the world’s most insightful information, but if nobody can hear it, it won’t do anyone any good. Make sure that you have appropriate sound for the venue so that the great information from the panel can be assimilated.
Leave time for Q&A: Great panels also allow for audience interaction. Have runners in multiple locations or invite a queue to a stationary microphone so less time is spent on running and more time is spent on content.