When considering various formats for an upcoming meeting, consider the advantages and disadvantages of a panel discussion – a live (or recorded), in-person, virtual, or “hybrid” discussion about a specific topic amongst a selected group of experts who share differing perspectives in front of an in-person, virtual, or geographically dispersed audience.
Advantages of a Panel Discussion
Less Panelist Preparation. Many executives, subject matter experts, and practitioners are unwilling to prepare for a speech or breakout session. They may, however, agree to a small amount of panelist preparation.
Fresh Information. Because there is less of a burden to prepare a formal presentation, panel members can share fresh, breaking information that may not be widely known or available to the audience.
Shared Responsibility. The success of a session largely depends on the people at the front of the room e.g. “on stage”. When using just one speaker, all the responsibility rests on that one speaker! If the speaker is awesome, that’s great! But if the speaker is so-so, that’s not-so-great… When you have a moderated panel of experts, you have increased your odds of having an awesome panel with multiple speakers!
Change of Pace. Today’s audiences want multiple formats – and the panel discussion is one among many.
Multiple Points of View. A speaker provides only one point a view; a panel provides multiple points of view.
Insights into the Real World. It is one thing to talk to the audience about a topic; it is another thing altogether to bring together practitioners in the real world to talk about their experiences and insights into the topic.
Allows for Audience Interaction. The moderator and panel members can engage the audience periodically during the panel or entertain a question and answer (Q&A) session toward the end of the panel discussion.
Disadvantages of a Panel Discussion
Overuse. While a panel discussion peppered here and there during your conference or convention works well, overuse of this format can make the experience too repetitive.
The Unknown. Even though the panel organizer and/or moderator have carefully planned and scripted the panel, it remains a spontaneous discussion – and sometimes the unpredictable happens in front of an audience!
More Coordination. The meeting organizer and/or moderator has not just one speaker to attend to, but at least three to five other people to shepherd. This will require more coordination in preparation and right before the panel discussion.
Not-So-Great Panel Moderator. Even with lackluster panelists, a skilled moderator can save the day! But if the moderator is unskilled and unable to facilitate the conversation, the conversation will quickly disintegrate.
Not-So-Good Panelists. Not every expert is a good communicator (I call this “eloquence”), so you want to do your due diligence when selecting your D.E.E.P. (Diverse, Expertise, Eloquence, Prepared) panelists.
Strong Personalities. While you want to have a diversity of opinions, some experts may have not only a strong opinion, but a personality that bowls over the discussion.
Many of these disadvantages of a panel discussion are simply limitations that can be mitigated during the planning process – so don’t let them dissuade you from realizing the advantages of a panel discussion!
For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.