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Indoor business conference for managers in hotel.

I’m always on the look-out for unique ways to spice up a panel discussion – and most of them seemed to be based on TV games or reality shows.  Imagine my surprise when Mary Foley shared a technique akin to “The Newlywed Game” to kick off a panel she moderated at last week’s National Speakers Association convention in Washington DC – about panels! (I know, a panel about panels!)

With her permission, I am tweaking it a bit here (I just can’t help myself!):


  • Buy some foam board (or other poster board that won’t be too flimsy) and cut into 2×3 individual boards along with a few black,”King Size Sharpie” markers – enough for each panelist.
  • Put one (or two) boards and a marker next to each panelist’s chair.  If you are going to ask two or three questions, it’s a nice touch to have a different color board for each question (light colors, please!).
  • Give the panelists a head’s up that they are going to have to write a few words LEGIBLY on the board.

During the Panel:

  • After you introduce the panelists, ask them a provocative question directly related to the topic that can be answered in just a few words.  Ask them to write their answers legibly on the foam board.
  • While the panelists are thinking/writing, encourage the audience to answer the question as well.  If you like, play some music for 15 seconds.
  • When all panelists have written their ideas, playfully call panelists (AKA contestants – ha!) to turn over their boards all at once as “the big reveal.”
  • Take a quick poll by asking the audience by a show of hands, “Who had the same answer as panelist number 1?” Then  “2?”  Then “3?”  Reflect back the rough percentage of hands you see.  This usually inspires a few gasps, a-has or a giggle or two.
  • Ask the first panelist a (short) probing question as to why he or she answered that way.
  • Do the same thing for all the panelists – so they all have a shot at answering the question. If two panelists answered the same or virtually identical, ask a probing, follow up question that either builds on or elicits a different response from the first one.

This should be done quickly and with alacrity.  Don’t dawdle.  Keep it moving.  Involve the audience.  You are setting the tone for the entire discussion.

Depending on the number of panelists (works best with three or four tops), you might want to keep it at one (or possibly two) rounds – initially.  You can also do another round mid-way through to break up and/or refocus the discussion.


  • These signs make a great photo-opportunity!  Gather the panelists together with their boards – or have audience members pose with the signs.  You can share them on social media and attach them to your follow-up email to the panelists and meeting organizer.
  • I am considering saving these signs and wallpapering my office (just kidding!)

Not every topic will lend itself to the Newlywed Game, but it’s a great way to spice up an otherwise boring panel discussion!

For more ways to spice up your panels, make sure to check out this knowledge vault which is chock-full of customizable checklists, worksheets, templates, agendas, sample emails, video interviews and webinars with industry icons and professional moderators.

Related Articles:

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Call for a Lightning Round to Add Pizzazz to your Panel Discussion

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF | Master, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a quest to make all panel discussions lively and informative. Check out her free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Photo source: Depositphotos.com

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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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