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IMHO, panel discussions should be the highlight of your conference. The panel brings together thought leaders, experts, and practitioners about a specific subject of interest to the audience.  It’s a conversation you can’t Google or get on YouTube.  You must be present to win!

Yet, academic panels are notorious for mind-numbing boredom where, “Scholar after scholar reads – word for excruciating word – a jargon-filled essay advancing an indecipherable thesis about an esoteric subject that no one in the audience knows anything about,” says Randy Laist, an associate professor of English at Goodwin College, in Connecticut.

Ugh!  Didn’t academics get the memo that panel discussions are about conversations and not about presentations?  I’m a big fan of giving the scholar a speaking slot and then bringing them all onto the stage to have a meaningful, memorable, and even transformational conversation.

Laist, who has participated in conference panels for more than a dozen years all over the world, suggests you “flip the presentation.”

A panel might still be organized around 10-to-12-page written essays, but they could be made available in advance. The important innovation — the flip — is to replace the typical read-through with a discussion of the presenters’ arguments.

Attendees would be asked to read the presenters’ papers in advance and come prepared with questions, with a quotation that they want to discuss, or with ideas about how a particular paper might apply to other research areas. Each panelist could begin with a quick summary, for those attendees who have not done their ‘homework.’ [Note:  You’ll need a powerful panel moderator who will intervene firmly and with respect when the panelist summarizes a tad bit too long!]

This technique can also work with PowerPoint presentations, which, rather than being delivered during the panel, could be recorded as narrated slideshows and uploaded to YouTube or to the conference site before the session.”

To make an academic session even better, Laist also suggests, “The presenters should prepare and distribute a written document that summarizes or outlines the argument of the presentation. Having something in writing makes it easier for people to follow the complexities of a presenter’s line of reasoning. Preparing such a document can also encourage presenters to reflect on what they hope to communicate.

This flier should be more than simply a transcript of your spiel. It might contain discussion questions, illustrations, sources of further information, a glossary of key terms, even something like a crossword puzzle, in which the answers have to do with the presenter’s topic. With a little creativity, these handouts can become documents that attendees will be reluctant to throw into their hotel wastebaskets.”

Love this alternative to the mind-numbing boredom of the traditional academic panel presentation.  With Laist’s ideas, we can have a brilliant discussion at our panel!


Related Articles:

Moderators, Are You Over-preparing Your Panelists?

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Tip #161 with Mark Sanborn: What To Do With a Hyper Panelist

For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.



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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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