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standing-room-only panel discussion

Good news! It’s standing room only at your panel discussion! That is a testament to the panel’s relevance and the audience’s interest in the topic.

However, an overflowing room can be problematic as well. Ask any fire marshall, and they will tell you that there is a set number of people who can safely be in one room. While I am not going to count heads, I always like to make sure the aisles are clear and people aren’t blocking exits.

Beyond the obvious safety issues, what else should you do when facing a standing-room-only crowd for your panel discussion?

  • Acknowledge and Appreciate: Start by acknowledging the enthusiasm of the audience and express gratitude for their presence. This sets a positive tone and makes attendees feel valued.
  • Manage Expectations: Be transparent about the situation. Let attendees know if there are any limitations you foresee e.g. hard to see everyone on the panel, the screen, the audio.
  • Fill in the Open Seats. At a recent panel at the NAB Show, one of the panelists, Byron Allen brilliantly asked the audience to “Hold up your hand if there is an empty seat. No need to hold up the wall.” All the available seats were quickly filled!

If you believe you’ll have a standing-room-only crowd, there are a few things you can do to ensure the safety and comfort of the crowd:

  • Ensure Safety and Comfort: Consider rearranging seating or adding standing areas to accommodate the overflow.
  • Manage Expectations: Be transparent about the situation. Let attendees know if there’s a limit to the venue’s capacity and if they can expect standing room only.
  • Facilitate Movement: If possible, designate specific areas for standing attendees to ensure they don’t block views or disrupt the event. Consider providing standing tables or leaning rails to enhance comfort.
  • Leverage Technology. Consider live-streaming the discussion or providing audio feeds to overflow areas. This ensures everyone can access the content regardless of their physical location in the venue.

Having a standing-room-only crowd for your panel discussion is fabulous – especially if you manage it appropriately!

Related Articles

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10 Common Mistakes Panel Moderators Make

How to Moderate a Panel


For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative 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.

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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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