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Note to Reader: This format can be done with any two opposing voices: Sales Said, Marketing Said; Management Said, Employees Said; Producers Said, Customers Said. Please don’t get hung up on the gender reference and consider this fine format for a panel discussion!


During the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) Convention last December, the two convention chairs organized a highly unique (and funny!) panel that galvanized the audience. Most loved the format and it created hallway buzz after it was over.

So much buzz that here it is, months after the convention and I interviewed the organizers: Jennifer Spear and Michael Kerr about their experience. You can listen to/watch the podcast here.

The “He said, She said” format is particularly effective when you have a topic where there is no right answer. For example, in the speaking industry, there are myriad ways to run your business and just because it works for one person, doesn’t mean it works for all.

Select a skilled moderator. This is a highly spontaneous (and potentially combustible) format, so you want to make sure you have a highly skilled moderator who can go with the flow but can also move the conversation along.

Select panelists that have highly engaging personalities. For CAPS, they selected two well-respected humorists (Tina Varughese and Sunjay Nath) whose personalities complemented each other. They also conferred with them ahead of time to discuss potentially controversial questions.

Develop a long list of “potential” questions where there is more than one answer. And just because the format is “he said, she said,” you do NOT need to limit yourself to gender-specific questions.

Whittle the questions down to a manageable number while thinking about an energizing “flow” to the questions e.g. the first one should be an easy lob that demonstrates the process and the level of humor. For CAPS, the first question was, “Is it true that there are several studies showing that men are funnier than women?” As Kerr says, “We thought that would be a good sort of debate-hand-grenade to start off with!”

Double-check with the panelists. You don’t want to conduct the panel in the pre-work, but you DO want to ensure that each will have a different side and/or take to each question. This is a good time to check the ebb and flow between hard and soft questions, and where a lightning round would work!

Set the stage. Have the moderator at center stage with each panelist to the right and left of the moderator. Each panelist should have their own microphone. CAPS actually gave each of them a high-top table to make it more like a debate (or to hide behind? Ha ha!)

Let it rip! As Spears says, “Recognize that you can only plan so much. You don’t know what your panelists are actually going to say. You can have sound issues when you go into the audience. You have no idea what questions they are going to ask. And so it’s being okay with being in that moment. And it really all was a bit of a chance we were taking, but I think it was really well worth it.”

During my podcast interview (you can listen/watch it here), Kerr mentioned that he was asked, “‘Why would you want to purposely divide the audience like that?’ and I had to respond. ‘Well, that was kind of the point We wanted to show that there’s more than one answer up there. There’s more than one perspective on all sorts of different issues and topics.'”

Yes, it really was worth it. I enjoyed the panel not only because Spears and Kerr used an innovative format, but they posed questions that this industry doesn’t really talk about much. Thanks for sharing the “He said, She said” format – a new way of having a panel discussion!

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To order your copy of The Powerful Panelist: Everything You Need to Know to be a Capable and Confident Panelist in a Panel Discussion visit this link.

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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