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Get to the Panel Discussion Early

I am often asked when the panelists should get to the panel discussion. My answer? “Get to the panel discussion early – at least 30 minutes before the panel will start. At the very least, show up “on time” – aka whenever the panel moderator asked you to be there.  There might be a quick meet-up in the meeting room or green room, or you are getting together over breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Even so, plan on getting there a little earlier as Murphy’s Law rules (Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!).


I like to get to the panel discussion early – at least an hour or so earlier than the panel’s start time for several reasons:

  • The Event.  Listen in on the opening keynotes and speakers to get a sense of the overall vibe of the event.
  • The Venue.  Make sure you ask the meeting organizer/panel moderator if you can get access to the meeting room ahead of time.  Not only can you check out the location, seating arrangements, stage (how to walk on and off), but you can practice a few lines to get a feel for room acoustics and ambiance. Check out the panelists’ chairs and sit up and down repeatedly.  I know it sounds dorky, but most people who spend a lot of time at their desks show the top of their heads.  Get out of your seat with your head up, looking at the audience.
  • The Moderator.  Let the moderator know you are there and find out if there is anything new you need to know.
  • The Panelists.  This is a great opportunity to meet your fellow panelists before things start up.  While some panelists will want to start talking about the topic, try not to!  Save that organic, authentic, and stimulating conversation for the panel!
  • Your Notes.  Take a moment to review your notes and key talking points.
  • Your Friends.  Catch up with the colleagues you asked to join you.
  • The Audience.  Chat with as many friendly faces as you can. Casually listen in on their conversations to get a sense for the mood in the room. Introduce yourself. Shake people’s hands. Thank them for coming. Get to know their names. Ask them easy questions, such as, “What brings you here today?” or “What’s your name and where do you hail from?” Dig deeper and try, “What’s your biggest challenge relating to [the topic]?” You are not only establishing rapport with the audience but also gathering valuable information about them that you can incorporate into the discussion.

When you get to the panel discussion early, you’ll feel much more relaxed and in tune with what is about to happen!

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For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Kristin Arnold



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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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