Provocative and Polarizing Questions for Your Panel Discussion

Try “Layered Group Listening” in a Panel Discussion
October 30, 2019
The Debateless Presidential Debate
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A panel without some kind of controversy, otherwise known as a difference of opinion, makes for an extremely boring panel.

So start with a bang and ask an interesting, intriguing, provocative, or polarizing question to stimulate their thinking..

You can ask the same provocative question to all the panelists:  For example, “What is the absolute, biggest challenge related to our topic?” or, “What’s the one thing you did that made you successful in this topic?” or, “If you could go back in time, what would be the one thing you would do differently?”

Or, you can target a unique polarizing question to each panelist to give a unique point of view that each panelist is well-qualified to talk about.  For example, “Expert A (could be a panelist, but doesn’t have to be) says [this] about [the topic].  Do you agree or disagree and why?”

Scott Burkun provides this example:  “Will blogging still be here in the year 2012?” Assign each panelist a yes or no end of that question. If they balk at this being artificial, ask them to propose a better question or series of questions to frame the debate. Pick the right spine and many problems will take care of themselves.

You can even ask the audience a provocative or polarizing question:

– As a rhetorical question, without asking for answers.

  As a direct question, soliciting a few responses from the audience.

  As a question to be discussed in small groups.

When you start with a controversial question at the beginning of a panel discussion, your audience will lean in to learn more.

Related Articles

How Moderators Can Manage Awkward Audience Comments

Creating Great Questions for Your Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions

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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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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