Just as an excellent party requires an overall theme, marvelous guests, and careful planning before the party can start, so does an excellent panel discussion. And just like a great party, the secret sauce is in the planning – even before the guests arrive.
Typically, by the time the moderator has been brought on board, several decisions have already been made by the meeting chair and/or organizer, so you will need to come up to speed on what has already been decided and what assumptions have been made for you. When you clarify the “starting conditions,” you will find that you have much more freedom than you initially thought!
The Event. The panel discussion is typically one session within an entire event. Determine where you are in the event agenda, and what comes before and after the panel discussion. Take a look at the event website and marketing materials.
Panel Dates/Time/Location. Block this day off on your schedule and plan to get to the venue well ahead of the start time.
Panel Title. An intriguing title will capture your audience’s attention. Work with the meeting chair to develop a catchy and effective title that is consistent with the event theme.
Panel Objectives. Clarify the stated objectives for the panel – especially if marketing material has already been published. What do you want them to know, think, or feel about the topic?
Sponsoring Organization. Review the mission of the business, association, or organization. Ask about their past experiences of having panels on their program – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Audience. Confirm the audience size, demographics, and expectations for the panel discussion.
Panelists. Get the name, bio, and contact information for any panelist who has already been invited or confirmed to participate, why they were selected, as well as a copy of what has been communicated to them. Ask for recommendations (see Step 2). Determine any inducements you can offer additional panelists to serve and if there are any promotional policies or prohibitions you need to be aware of.
Success Criteria. Ask about who and how they will determine and evaluate the success of the panel. Evaluation forms? Hallway buzz?
Room Logistics. Find out about the room size and layout, furniture setup, and color of the backdrop.
Audio/Visual. Determine the availability of audio (microphones), visual (video projection), and internet (Wi-Fi) connectivity.
Rights. Ask if the panel will be recorded (audio and/or video) or live-streamed. If so, ask for the release form the moderator and panelists need to sign.
Support Staff. Ask about any additional support you will have in the room, e.g., room monitors, microphone runners, etc.
Promotion. Offer to help get the word out to promote the panel.
Attire. Determine the expected attire/dress for the conference.
Contingencies. You’ll also want to chat about various contingencies that may arise – the “if this, then that” discussion:
To make your life easier, follow along with this planning worksheet to help you have a fabulous conversation with the meeting organizer for your next panel discussion!