Use Audience-Engagement for a Boring Panel Discussion Topic

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Last week, I moderated a panel discussion on “risk assessment” – a potentially boring topic – but it wasn’t boring at all!  Why?  Because I involved the audience from the get-go and focused the conversation on what they knew and what they needed to know.

How?  So let me share with you the process I used (taken from my detailed agenda notes):

Kristin to kick off the panel, review objectives.

Small group/table discussions – What threats and security issues – that probably won’t happen, but could – keep you up at night?

Kristin to debrief and poll the room if that’s a common fear or a one-off!

Kristin to introduce Panelist #1.  (As Kristin is introducing, walk onto the stage)

Panelist #1 shares a real or invented scenario – what happened and what kinds of things were in place as a preventive measure. (1-2 minutes)

Nudge your Neighbor – What would you do in response to this scenario? (1 minute)

Kristin to debrief three responses to the scenario (1 minute)

Panelist #1 – Shares the response to the situation (1-2 minutes)

Panelist #2  – Same process

Panelist #3 – Same process

Panelist #4  – Share industry response/plans (note: he went into the audience to make it conversational and used 5 slides. (5-6 minutes)

Moderated Q&A.

Some sample questions included: (20 minutes):

  • What is your organization doing to make your meetings safer?
  • Do you put safety and security plans in your agreements/RFPs?
  • Have you increased your budgets and how were you able to do that?
  • Where’s the line between the planners’ responsibilities and the venue’s/suppliers’ responsibilities?
  • How do you go about assessing risk and applying your limited resources?
  • Thanks for the list, now how do we determine the probability of a threat?
  • How do you plan for an event that you hope won’t happen?
  • What makes a plan “good”?
  • How do you train and communicate with your staff before and during the crisis?
  • How do you get buy-in from leadership to allocate resources?

Poll.  During the moderated Q&A, we took a quick poll:  Raise your hand if you have a safety and security plan for your meetings that you can point to.  (Surprising, only 10% of the room raised their hands to which I quipped, “Well, I guess we have a bit of work to do!”)

Small group/table to discuss what questions/comments they have (2 minutes)

Audience Q&A using “Catchbox,” a throwable microphone (20 minutes)

Wrap up:

  • Lightning Round: If you were just starting to develop your safety and security plans, what one thing would you recommend that audience do to start…
  • Ask Panelists for their last word – the ONE THING they hope the audience will do as a result of this conversation that has NOT been already brought up (30 seconds each)
  • Thank the panelists and audience
  • Turn it over to the MC!

I might be a bit biased (after all, I was the panel moderator), but I received lots of unsolicited feedback about how informative the panel discussion was and that it was “surprisingly” interesting!  Yippeee!

For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets better, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

Related Articles:

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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high-stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.



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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
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.
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