last in line to speak (1)
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stale panel discussion topic

It happens sometimes when you’ve been given a stale topic in a panel discussion. You sigh. Shake your head thinking, “The audience doesn’t want to hear old news.”

No, they don’t want to hear old news – but it’s your job (panel moderators and panelists) to make the information new and refreshing!

Marketing strategist Vickie Sullivan says, “Sophisticated audiences often have the same access to information as you. They will not tolerate spending precious time on blinding flashes of the obvious. This is when your perspective can either shine or be exposed.”

But how do you do that when the content matches what the audience already knows?

If you are the panel moderator, carefully think through the topic “angle” and format:

  • Double Down on the “Why.” Instead of covering the usual questions, dig into the “why” this topic is so important that it has been given dedicated time on a panel. (If you don’t know, ask the meeting organizer and find out why!).
    • Perhaps there has been poor adoption. Find out why and talk about ways to increase adoption.
    • Perhaps there is a poor understanding of what it takes to execute the idea. Find out what it takes and have an honest, “unplugged” conversation the audience can’t get elsewhere.
    • Perhaps there lacks an appreciation for what this topic should mean to the audience. Focus on the back stories to expand their understanding.
  • Ask Provocative Questions that will stimulate the audience’s thinking about the topic. For example, you could ask, “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?”
  • Ask Hypothetical Questions that spur interesting conversation. For example, “Would this work if we did this?” or “What do you think would happen if this other incident happens?”
  • Create a Polarizing Format where you pit two different statements and ask the panelists to pick their answer and discuss why they chose that answer. You can also try the “Would You Rather?” format where the audience chooses the answer and the panelist(s) respond.

As a panelist, think about the audience as you prepare for the panel discussion. What do they know? What should they know? What are the questions you are asked most frequently? What questions seem to beg for more detail? YOU want to be the panelist that the audience leans in to hear what you have to say!

There is absolutely no reason for it to be boring even though you have a “stale topic in a panel discussion.” You may just have to work a little harder to find the gold in them there hills!

Related Articles

How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

How to Structure a Panel Discussion

27 Popular Panel Discussion Formats to Spark Your Creativity!


To order your copy of The Powerful Panelist: Everything You Need to Know to be a Capable and Confident Panelist in a Panel Discussion visit this link.

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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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