Fifth Democratic Presidential Debate – A Shallow, Stale Ping Pong Match
November 21, 2019
Sixth Democratic Presidential Primary Debate – Balanced Yet Boring
December 13, 2019

No one wants the boring draped table at the front of the room, but how do you “dress up” a panel discussion on the cheap?

It’s a great question as many panel discussions have virtually no budget. So I called Deborah Molique, an event planning consultant at Molique EPS in Scottsdale, AZ.  Here’s what we came up with – and would love to hear your ideas as well:

Furniture & Fixtures

  • Borrow.  During your site visit, be on the lookout for furniture you can “borrow” – lounge furniture (matching chairs, couches and/or cocktail tables) from the lobby, executive chairs from the sales office or executive board room, furniture in a room or suite, chairs from the hallway, or highboys from the bar.  While you’re at it, look for “fixtures” that can decorate the room: plants, artificial trees, or anything else that sparks your fancy!  Before you sign the contract with the meeting venue, negotiate the use of the property you spot to be used at no cost during the panel –  and that the venue will move it to and from the room for you!
  • Bring it.  When the venue is dull and doesn’t have any furniture you want to borrow, bring it from home or from a (nice) friend’s house.
  • Buy it.  If you have a bit of a budget for speaker gifts, a nice touch is to buy “director’s chairs” and then give them to the panelists as their gift for sharing their wisdom with the audience.
  • Sponsor.  Perhaps there is a local furniture store that might be interested in showcasing their wares in front of your audience?  You never know until you ask!
  • Delete it.  I’m not a big fan of the draped table or even a cocktail table in front of the panelists.  It creates a physical barrier between them and the audience.  So you gotta ask yourself, “Do we even need that table?”  Although, you might want to put some small tables between the panelists or behind them to place bottles of water.


  • Media Wall.  Does your organization have a “step and repeat media wall” that they use for photo, branding, or award opportunities?  If so, borrow it from the entrance just in time for your panel.  If not, they are fairly reasonable to purchase and can be used and re-used in a variety of ways.  (Think selfies!)
  • Welcome Signage.  Many organizations have some kind of welcome signage or retractable banner signs at the entrance of the event.  Move those to your room just in time for the panel.
  • Multimedia Screen.  If the room comes with multi-media capability, design an interesting slide with the topic, speaker photos and information.  Spend some time to make it look really classy (vs. boring!) and now the moderator won’t have to quote the lineage of the panelists!
  • Wallpaper.  You can also design some inspirational quotes or provocative questions to decorate the room.  You can print them on foam board and prop on an easel OR just print them on easel paper and hang on the wall!


  • Share.  Save some money by having the panelists share microphones.  Yes, they will all want their own, but sharing actually creates a sense of collaboration and a desire to balance the airtime between panelists.
  • Delete.  In a room of less than 50 people, you can get by without a dedicated microphone for audience Q&A.  50 to 75 depends on the acoustics of the room.  Over 75 people, a microphone is mandatory so the audience can hear the question.  In that case, the panel moderator should share the duties of microphone runner.

What ideas do you have to dress up a panel discussion with virtually no budget?


Related Articles:

How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments

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

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions


For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.




Kristin Arnold



We don’t spam!

Share This:
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.
Contact Us
Skip to content

Our privacy policy has been updated. By clicking, 'I agree,' you consent to the terms therein. I Agree