I was recently asked about how to create an inclusive environment during a panel discussion. It’s more than being welcoming and friendly.
Here are nine things you can do to proactively create an inclusive environment where everyone feels respected and valued:
Diversity. Strive for diverse representation among the panelists. Aim to include individuals from various backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and identities. This diversity will promote a range of viewpoints and enrich the discussion.
Inclusive Language. Foster an environment where all participants feel respected and included. Avoid assumptions or stereotypes, and use gender-neutral language whenever possible. Respect the preferred names, pronouns, and identities of both panelists and audience members.
Ground Rules. Set clear ground rules at the beginning of the panel to create a respectful and inclusive atmosphere. Encourage panelists to listen actively, avoid interrupting one another, and use inclusive language. Emphasize the importance of mutual respect and constructive dialogue.
Active Listening. Encourage active listening among panelists by emphasizing the value of hearing and understanding different perspectives. During your pre-panel meet-ups, remind them to listen attentively, reflect on others’ viewpoints, and respond thoughtfully. Active listening promotes empathy and creates a safe space for open dialogue.
Balance Airtime. Ensure that each panelist has an equal opportunity to speak and share their perspectives. Moderate the discussion to prevent one or a few panelists from dominating the conversation. If necessary, intervene respectfully and redirect the discussion to ensure fairness and inclusion.
Audience Participation. Actively involve the audience in the discussion by providing opportunities for questions, comments, or polls. Encourage a variety of voices and ensure that audience members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts or asking questions.
Safe Space. If the panel discussion covers controversial or sensitive topics, create a space where panelists and the audience feel safe expressing their opinions and experiences. Establish guidelines for respectful dialogue and ensure that differing viewpoints are acknowledged and discussed constructively.
Reflection. Allow time for reflection and questions throughout the panel discussion. This allows panelists and the audience to process the information shared and ask clarifying or follow-up questions. Encourage thoughtful engagement and create a supportive environment for discussion.
Follow Up. After the panel discussion, provide follow-up resources or references related to the topics discussed. Share articles, books, websites, or other relevant materials that allow participants to explore the subject matter further. This demonstrates your commitment to ongoing learning and inclusivity.
By implementing these strategies, you can create an inclusive environment during a panel discussion, fostering respect, meaningful dialogue, and a sense of belonging for all participants.
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.