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I’ve been talking to a gaggle (which is not quite a google) of meeting planners over the last several years about what makes a panel discussion successful.

I’ve boiled it down to four basic criteria. You make sure you have these four items, then your panel discussion will be the hit of the conference. Miss one, and it will be okay but nothing remarkable or memorable. Miss two and you won’t surprise anyone, since audiences don’t have high expectations of panels. Miss three or four and you will have a total snooze-fest.

So here’s the deal: At the very least, you MUST:

  1. Deliver on the promise. Whatever is stated in the promotional marketing materials, conference brochure or meeting app, you must deliver on the promise.
  2. Have a scintillating, spontaneous conversation. The panelists should be engaged in an interesting discussion that is not otherwise available on the Internet – especially YouTube. Audiences want to get a glimpse of a conversation that no one else has access to!
  3. Provoke differences of opinion. It’s boring to hear panelists say, “Yep, I agree with you.” Why bother to attend the panel if we all agree and know what to do? The most interesting panel discussions are set up to showcase the differences of opinions – between the panelists and out in the audience.
  4. Provide takeaway value. Even though the audience is witnessing an interesting and entertaining conversation, if they don’t walk away with some relevance to their own personal or professional lives, what’s the point?

Anything beyond these four criteria is gravy. For example, I was going to add “entertaining” to the list, but not all panels need to be entertaining to be good. I think it’s “gravy” and nice to have, but not imperative.

What do you think? Am I missing any criteria?

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:

10 Ways Panel Moderators Can Manage Time Effectively During a Panel Discussion

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats

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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