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Sometimes, you just need to let the audience drive the conversation.  To engage in this type of format, It really has to be a perfect storm of conditions:

  1. The audience is familiar with the topic and has lots of questions they want to ask “the experts” aka the panelists.
  2. The audience is already familiar with the panelists – either they were introduced to them earlier in the program or they are well-known in that community.
  3. The audience size is manageable – IMHO that would be less than 200 people.
  4. The panel is less than 60 minutes.
  5. You want to maximize value for the audience.

When these five conditions occur, dispense with the introductory rigamarole and get down to business quickly!

Spend just a few minutes to introduce the topic and the objectives while you are inviting the panelists to join you on stage.

You’ll want to emphasize that this panel discussion is going to be driven by them – by the audience!  That we are going to answer the questions they want answered, to share lessons learned and ideas.

Share the directions on how you are going to solicit questions from the audience:

  • Live from the floor via a queue, runners, or by the moderator roaming the crowd.
  •  Screened so the questions can be filtered and prioritized via question cards, texts, tweets, or by small groups chatting and popping up with their best questions.
  • Crowdsourced by using a meeting app such as Slido so the audience can create and “like” the questions.
  • Seeded.  It’s a bit of a risky strategy, so you can also ask trusted audience members to ask a straightforward or supplied question.

Then take the first question, the question you most see in the cards, texts, and tweets, or the “top voted” question.  Let a panelist respond while encouraging comments that add to the conversation. 

Then take the next question, and then the next, until you have about 5 minutes left.

With just a few minutes at the end of the panel, wrap it up very quickly with a summarizing statement and then ask each panelist, “What’s the one thing you thought you were going to be asked – but you weren’t? And what’s your answer?”

Thank the panelists and audience for their contributions, the sponsor for their support, and send them off to the next activity!

Related Articles:

27 Popular Panel Discussion Formats to Spark Your Creativity

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

“Turn the Tables” in a Debate-Style Panel Discussion Format

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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