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too many panelists

The optimal number of panelists for a panel discussion is 3-4. Beyond that, “you have a party, not a panel!” (Thanks to Sarah Michel for sharing that great quote!).

Even though you tried to influence the meeting organizers to limit the number of panelists, you might have been unsuccessful. You can’t change it. So what do you do when you have too many panelists?


Here’s my short list of what to do when you have too many panelists – and can’t change the number!

  1. Dispense with the introductions. You don’t have time. Refer the audience to their program and/or meeting app for more details. Put the panelists’ picture, name, title, and social on a slide for all to reference.
  2. Coach the panelists to be concise when speaking and encourage their fellow panelists to chime in with new information.
  3. Move the conversational ball around – making sure that every panelist has an even chance to speak at some point during the panel. They ALL do NOT have to weigh in on every question!
  4. When it DOES seem like you want to hear from all of the panelists, invoke a “lightning round” where you tee up a question that does NOT require a lengthy response and quickly go down the line of panelists to answer.
  5. Take a rapid-fire poll of the panelists where you ask the panelists to rate from 1-10 or answer yes/no/maybe, agree/disagree.
  6. Give the panelists a limited amount of time or words to answer the question e.g. “You have 30 seconds, five words, one breath!”
  7. Try the improv technique where you tee up a carefully crafted question and each panelist has to add to the conversation by saying “yes, and…”

I am sure there are other techniques to keep the conversation moving and flowing among many panelists. What are your ideas?

Related Articles

How to Structure a Panel Discussion

10 Common Mistakes Panel Moderators Make

How to Moderate a Panel

For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and 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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