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When to Have a Panel Discussion

I was chatting with Event Strategist Devon Montgomery Pasha about when to have a panel discussion – and when not to. (You can listen to the podcast here).

We both agree that panel discussions can be a powerful format for knowledge sharing, attitude shifting, and building connections. However, to create a truly impactful panel discussion, we need to ask some critical questions FIRST.

Ask “Why Should You Have a Panel Discussion?”

Just because you can have a panel discussion doesn’t mean you should! Pasha emphasizes the importance of questioning the purpose behind the panel – the “why” you want to have a panel discussion. “If it’s a hot button topic or a topic that has multiple perspectives, that is an opportunity to have a panel…to compare, to contrast, to debate in a lively way.”

Ask “What Behavioral Change Are You Seeking?”

Pasha notes that panel discussions can serve three types of learning: knowledge learning, attitude learning, and people learning. Depending on your objectives, you might choose one or a combination of these learning styles. Knowledge learning involves presenting different perspectives on a topic. Attitude learning aims to shift participants’ attitudes, while people learning introduces attendees to interesting individuals with unique backgrounds. Pasha continues, “If you can’t answer that question, then let’s step back and think about the behavior change goals:

  • Whose behavior is essential to change with this event?
  • Who is essential that we delight with this event?
  • Does a panel fit the criteria to change that behavior?
  • What’s the difference between where they are and where they are after the panel: the idea knowledge, exchange of attitude, change of people learning?

Once you decide the panel is an effective meeting format, Pasha suggests a more dynamic approach to panel design, breaking away from the traditional format and offering opportunities for audience interaction. She emphasizes the importance of creating a sense of community and belonging among the participants – even before the panel starts! Another way is to use technology tools to crowdsource questions and encourage the audience to participate actively in the discussion.

Panel discussions are a valuable format for events when used thoughtfully and creatively. By asking “why” and considering the type of learning you want to facilitate, you can ensure your panel discussions are powerful and engaging. Don’t be afraid to challenge traditional formats and focus on creating meaningful connections and lasting impact.

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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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