“Turn the Tables” in a Debate-Style Panel Discussion Format

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PCMA recently highlighted an unusual debate-style panel format conducted at the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers’ (IAPCO) Annual Meeting in Dubai in February.

Since I am always on the lookout for new formats, I’ve summarized Michelle Russell’s article here:

The panel session was set up as a debate over the question of whether professional congress organizers (PCOs) should collaborate or compete in order to best serve clients, DMOs, and themselves. Six panelists were invited to represent either collaboration or competition.  Five of the panelists chose collaboration and one spoke in favor of competition.  The panelists were also asked to prepare their case, highlighting the benefits, evidence, and facts for their side during the debate.

Each panelist presented their viewpoint…and then the moderator turned the tables, asking each panelist to argue against their original position!  (Nope, they did not know that the moderator was going to do this!)

“Suddenly, the audience and panelists were on the edge of their chairs,” said panelist Jaime Bennett of Conference Partners.  “Those that had to switch sides not only had to think on their feet, but deliver their new argument with conviction.”

The audience, who were seated at tables, also were asked to summarize their arguments for and against, flipping their original viewpoints. Throughout the debate, the moderator would ask questions from the audience to loop them into the discussion

Discussion points were recorded by a graphic facilitator/artist on an “engagement wall.”

So who won?

“As we were moving along, we realized little by little that the borderline between the two positions was not so defined and fixed,” said Bruna Bertolini, key account director, MCI France, who participated in the session. “We concluded that in some situations we are ready to collaborate and in others we prefer to compete — it all depends on the context.” But in the end — as evidenced by the list of benefits illustrated for each — collaboration won out over competition.

“It was a great session that highlighted that when reviewing a bid, we need to consider if collaborating is an option or if there is an opportunity to share knowledge with another company to assist with success,” Bennett said. “To be able to collaborate, everyone agreed that trust, clear communication on roles and responsibilities, and 100-percent transparency are the key elements to ensure success.” Bertolini concurred, adding: “It is crucial also to determine clear tasks assignment — and an exit policy.”

This “turn the tables” debate format made the panel discussion more interesting and engaging for all!

For more resources on how to make meetings, panels, and room sets better, 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:

10 Ways Panel Moderators Can Manage Time Effectively During a Panel Discussion

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

3 Popular Panel Discussion Formats


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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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