When Shoffer Bill Lovejoy was a vice president of programming for the American Marketing Association (AMA), Indianapolis Chapter, he planned and moderated panel discussions on timely topics of interest to its members.
Communications professionals have to be able to deliver their message clearly and memorably. But maybe the greatest impact we can make is when we empower others to be great communicators, too.
Panel discussions are an evergreen element of professional development and community outreach. They seem simple enough, but like anything, making it look easy is hard work.
11 how-to tips for planning a killer panel discussion:
- Secure a panel of different points of views, backgrounds and experiences. We rely on word of mouth and research to make good panel participant selections.
- Provide panelists with a clear understanding of the event format, types of questions that will be asked and what’s expected of the panelists.
- Several days prior to the event, email the panelists about logistics, dress code and room setup. Instilling them with confidence in the event will help them focus on their own performance.
- Develop general questions that apply to all panelists as well as specific questions catered to each individual panelist. This allows each one the opportunity to provide unique value. Rehearse your questions with a friend or colleague to ensure the sequence and wording feel right. Save your best question for last.
- Invite panelists to arrive well before the session so that they may meet and interact ahead of time. Chemistry is important.
- Tailor promotional messaging to your audience by focusing less on panelists’ resumes and more on the insights they will offer. If there is a hashtag or digital resource related to your event, be sure to include them in promotional messages.
- Test your audio-visual equipment before the panelists arrive and quickly once again after your panelists are in place. Don’t allow a bad microphone to be the most memorable part of your meeting.
- Make sure your hashtag or digital resource is printed prominently on event materials and projected on screen (if applicable).
- Allow for audience interaction. Offer audience members the opportunity to submit their own questions to be answered at the end of the discussion.
- Thank the panelists at and following the event. Ask them to tweet or blog about their positive experience speaking for your organization…and be sure to ask them to use that hashtag!
- Use a simple survey tool like SurveyMonkey after the event to gather audience feedback on the meeting and topic, your panel and you. Share positive comments with the panelists. Use constructive criticism to improve your next panel and your own performance.
Hosting a killer panel discussion isn’t complicated but it’s important to focus on the details. Something is sure to go differently than you planned, but if you’ve planned well it won’t be a big deal. Remember to relax and have fun!
Whether you’re being interviewed by a reporter or participating on a panel, click the link below and let us help you put your best foot forward.