Want your panel discussion to be memorable? Maybe even have a viral moment at the conference? The trick is to have the panel moderator and/or panelists do something unexpected or something spontaneous. Something you can’t get on YouTube. Something you wouldn’t normally witness in one of your organization’s typical panel discussions.
When I mention this to my clients, I usually hear silence. A cough. Then a hesitant question, “Ummm…how do I do that?”
There is such a thing as “planned spontaneity” where the panelist plans to do something that actually appears to be spontaneous in the eyes of the audience. But it’s really not. The panelist has actually prepared for the “spontaneous” moment.
For example, one of my clients was a panelist at a very prominent convention. He knew he would be asked a technical question about an upcoming product release. He thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to call the lead developer while looking like it was a spontaneous idea?”
To prepare, he made sure the developer was available by cell during the entire time of the panel – and the developer would keep her answers crisp and clear. He also confirmed with the A/V crew on the technical details to projecting the developers’ audio (put your microphone directly on your phone – we tried it out during the dry run).
Guess what? The question came up during the panel discussion! He said, “Hey, why don’t I just call the lead developer and get it straight from her?” The audience then got to hear the firsthand details. How cool is that?
The ability to pull off planned spontaneity is largely dependent on the panelists’ personal style and confidence that it will be interesting and benefit the audience.
• It should relate to the topic. But not all the time. Sometimes, a small distraction can be welcome.
• It has to be culturally appropriate for the audience. Don’t do something that will just piss them off.
• Panelists: It is helpful to give the meeting organizer and panel moderator a heads up on your intentions.
Encourage your panelist(s) to brainstorm ideas on their own, or join in a brainstorming session with just one panelist, or hold a brainstorming session with all the panelists! The point is, you have to put the seed of inspiration in their heads. It just ain’t going to happen on its own.
You have to be intentional. The most remarkable moments are actually well thought out. Sometimes even rehearse it so you know that it will go well. If it works, run with it! And if it bombs (which it might), simply move on. No harm, no foul.
But then again, you don’t have to plan everything out. Encourage your panelists to look for moments of spontaneous human kindness. Actor Chris Evans was on a panel at the 2019 ACE Comic-con in Seattle. They were in the middle of the audience Q&A segment when Evans spied an adorable dog in the front row disguised as Iron Man. Guess what? He jumped off the stage to pet the dog! Matzav Review reported, “On Twitter and on the site all their fans went crazy, especially when you hear the emotion in his voice when he said: ‘Hello, friend!’ (‘Hey, pal!’)…”
Now that’s a purely spontaneous memorable moment!