In talking with myriad meeting organizers, whenever I ask about panel discussion topics, I usually get a one or two-word response such as “Leadership,” “Technology,” “COVID,” etc.
While that’s a great start, it’s an incomplete answer! Panel discussion topics are more than just one or two words.
To provide a focus for the panel moderator, panelists, and the audience, craft a topic statement (not to be confused with a panel title) that includes these three elements:
3 Elements of a Fabulous Panel Discussion Topic
- WHAT: The subject of the panel discussion. This is the easiest to identify as this is probably one or two words that encapsulate the topic. But is that enough? You might want to make it more specific. If the topic is too general (for example, “Leadership”), no one will know what to expect, the direction it will take, or if they want to participate. For example, “Leadership Pathways” is more specific.
- WHO: The audience in the panel discussion. Many times, this is inferred, especially in corporate or association events, but it might also be suited for a sub-group within that organization. For example, “Leadership Pathways for New Managers at XYZ Corporation.”
- WHY: Writers would call this “the controlling idea” which is the point of the panel and why the audience would want to attend. It can be the purpose, objective, or outcomes that guide the conversation and limit the scope of discussion.
To continue our example: “Leadership Pathways for New Managers’ Career Success at XYZ Corporation.”
The controlling idea is career success. Now the participants know that the panel is about career success, which ultimately, is what they care about.
Once you have the topic statement, then recruit your panel moderator and panelists, create a snazzy title, and promote the panel to the identified audience.
The next time someone asks you about the topic of your panel, give them more than a one or two-word subject. Instead, give them a topic statement that has a specific subject, the audience identified, and a controlling idea.
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For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series or our other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.
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