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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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

Make the Title of Your Panel Discussion Intriguing

The title of your panel discussion is your first chance to capture your audience’s attention. An intriguing title signals your intent to be lively and engaging instead of dull and boring. A catchy and effective title should:

  • Be appropriate to the occasion or tie into the conference theme
  • Provide enough information about the subject so that potential attendees can tell whether this is likely to be of interest to them
  • Be succinct and to the point
  • Pique the interest of the reader or potential listener

Perhaps you are like me: I acknowledge that I need a lively title, but I can’t always think of one! So I look at magazine titles for inspiration. Magazine editors have been attracting readers for years, so browse your magazine rack for ideas.

My colleague, Sam Horn, is renowned for helping individuals and organizations create intriguing ideas and original approaches that help them break out versus blend in. In her book, POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title and Tagline for Anything! [Perigee-Penguin, 2009], Horn suggests you identify your Points of Distinction or “PODs”. What is a common truth about your topic? Don’t bore people by featuring that in your title or description. Saying the same thing as everyone else is a prescription for blending in.  How can you say the opposite instead of the obvious? A panel discussion entitled “The Customer is NOT Always Right” delves into how employees can deal with chronic complainers who consistently break the rules is more likely to elicit interest. Many people would welcome what promises to be a “tell-it-like-it-is” panel discussion that addresses a real problem without a Pollyanna approach.   So next time you are putting together a panel discussion, make the title intriguing and interesting – and then deliver on the promise!

What are some examples of intriguing titles you have used to describe the topic the panel is going to discuss?

Related Articles

How to Organize a Panel Discussion

Panel Moderator Research Tip: Find “Dead Space” in Your Topic

How to Prepare for a Panel Discussion

4 Panel Discussion Formats

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.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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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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