How to Get Your Panel Discussion Proposal Approved by Conference Organizers

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I was having a great conversation with Mark Milroy, CAE, Vice President of Learning at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.  He has seen ALOT of panel proposals come through his office – most of which say, “I’ll put great people on the panel and make it interesting for the audience.  We’ll use humor, stories, and have audience Q&A.

shutterstock_277372325That’s not enough.  If you want your panel proposal to be approved, take the time to develop your game plan:

  • Topic.  What’s the topic?  Why is it relevant to the audience and why now?
  • Time.  How much time do you require and how are you going to distribute the time? A bunch of presentations with five minutes of audience Q&A won’t cut it.  Provide an agenda or timetable that shows how you are going to spend your time.
  • Takeaways.  What will the audience learn, discover or apply as a result of attending this panel?  It has to be more than a lovely conversation among friends.
  • Talent.  Are you bringing up the usual cast of characters or are you going to bring some fresh faces to the panel?  Bring in subject matter experts and practitioners with diverse viewpoints whom you have personally vetted not only for their knowledge but their ability to share that knowledge verbally.  Include video links that show them in action.
  • Technique.  How are you going to engage and invite the audience to participate?  Don’t just say you’re going to do it; explain precisely and specifically HOW you will use those stories, case studies, visuals, crowdsourcing technologies, Q&A, etc. to engage the audience.
  • Promotion.  What are you going to do before and after the event to promote your panel discussion within the membership, attendees or online communities?   Meeting planners are recognizing the value of social media tools to publicize their event and reinforce the value.  Offer to help them spread the word!  (Too bad I couldn’t come up with better word that starts with a “T”!)

The legendary SXSW conference has a ton of panels.  So many, they created the “Panel Picker” where they say, “The more specific a proposal is, the better. Seriously. We mean it. Specificity demands a lot more thought and planning — and pre-event thought and planning are the two biggest keys to a successful session. For example, a topic like “How Free Downloads Hurt Radiohead” would work better than the more general “Free Downloads and the Future of Music.”

It all boils down to uniqueness and specificity.  No one wants to see the same old boring white table panel discussion with microphones and tent cards.  What are you going to do to stand out, be noticed and deliver amazing value to the attendees?  And the more specific you can be, the better.

For more tips on planning a powerful panel, listen to this podcast.
Related Articles:

Attention Meeting Professionals: The Main Reason Your Panels are Boring

Panel Reputation: Chicken or the Egg?

10 Common Mistakes Panel Moderators Make…And How to Avoid Them

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.


Photo source: Design Pickle

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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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