I have long thought that inattention or ignorance was the cause of lackluster panels. Inattention in that the meeting organizers, moderators, and panelists simply show up and expect magic to happen. Or ignorance in that they don’t know how to spice up their panels. After all, what more can you do with a typical panel discussion?
Devin Thorpe, in this Forbes article, gave me an insight into a third cause: Subconscious bias. As an experienced panel moderator, he was asked to lead a panel discussion at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference. He says, “One of the panelists, an African American woman about half my age, argued for breaking the audience into four groups to allow the audience to fully participate in the discussion and develop ideas for building resilience in their own neighborhoods and then report their ideas back to the full group.
I didn’t like it.
Why? What didn’t I like?
· Did I not like the feedback simply because her opinion differed from mine?
· Did I disregard her opinion because she was half my age?
· Worse yet, did I dismiss the idea in my head because she was a woman?
· Or, heaven forbid, did I resist the idea because she was black?”
Turns out that they started the session with the small groups.
He continued, “Her idea for the session wasn’t just different from mine, it was better than mine. It was the defining element of the workshop’s success. This experience has provided me with an important teachable moment to look at my own biases.”
I applaud Devine for his thoughtful introspection – and his ability to avoid his own bias and try something new. Something to think about.