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So you’re talking to your panelists in preparation for an amazing panel discussion, and one of your panelists asks, “What can I do to make an impact?  To be memorable so that people DO something with the information?”

Ah…and that’s the challenge, isn’t it?  We can have lovely conversation, but at the end of the day, what’s the point?

Here’s the deal: We all want to witness a unique conversation you can’t get anywhere else, so it’s important to continuously reinforce a conversational tone to the panel so it doesn’t sound so stilted.

To do that, the panelists need to come prepared:

  • Be ready to share three key messages from which the audience can derive great value.
  • With each of these key messages, identify an example, a story, demonstration or prop that makes that idea come to life.
  • Along with a short, “Twitterable” soundbite that audiences will remember after the panel discussion is over.
  • Prepare a final takeaway, insight, or idea you want to leave the audience with.  I’m a big fan of asking the audience to do something – a “call to action” – based on what they heard.

Now here comes the zinger: Along with doing the prep work, what really makes a panelist or the panel discussion memorable is to do something unexpected and/or something spontaneous.  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?”

That’s an amazingly great question and requires a bit of brainstorming:

  1. Whatever you do, it has to relate to the topic.  Just doing something spontaneous for gratuitous sake is just silly.
  2. It has to be culturally appropriate for the audience.  Don’t do something that will just piss them off.
  3. You have to be intentional. The most remarkable moments are actually well thought out. Sometimes even rehearsed so you know that it will go well.

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 it’s own (unless you are the utterly fascinating Sally Hogshead!).

Now let’s talk about the word “spontaneous.”  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 (see above).

BTW panelists: It is helpful to give the meeting organizer and panel moderator a heads up on your intentions.  Just sayin’.

But then again, a panelist can truly act in a spontaneous manner during a panel discussion.  And that, my friends, is always a surprise: for the moderator, the fellow panelists, and the audience!  The ability to pull this off is largely dependent on the panelists’ personal style and confidence that it will be interesting and benefit the audience.  If it works, run with it!  And if it bombs (which it might), simply move on.  No harm, no foul.


Related Articles:

Moderators, Are You Over-preparing Your Panelists?

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

Panel Discussion Tip #161 with Mark Sanborn: What To Do With a Hyper Panelist

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high-stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.

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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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