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I’ve been wondering lately about the placement of panels, specifically when to have a panel discussion inserted into the flow of the program. True enough, panel discussions are an excellent format to bring diverse viewpoints together to have a meaningful conversation and valuable takeaways for the participants. I’ve seen some panels that are placed perfectly where the different elements of the program flow well into each other. Yet I’ve also seen some panels that are clearly wedged in somewhere they don’t belong!

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So what is the optimal placement of a panel discussion in the program of a longer meeting, conference, or convention? The answer depends on what the objective is.

When to Have a Panel Discussion

  • Tee Up a Topic. At the beginning of the day (or segment of the program), you may want to use a panel discussion to provide an overview of the issues surrounding a specific topic. Once the “table has been set,” the rest of the programming can keep referring to key elements.
  • Dig Deeper. After a segment that has provided an overview of a topic, you can use a panel discussion to dig deeper into more serious or complex aspects of that issue – especially when there are differing viewpoints.
  • Debrief. After the participants have explored a topic, then use a panel to debrief the audience, leaning more toward learning and application of key takeaways.
  • Shift Energy. Especially if the format of the program is fairly consistent and/or repetitive, a panel discussion can shift the energy, pace, and/or tone of the program – primarily because it IS different than what has gone before!

Too often, I have seen a meeting organizer assemble a panel and forget to tell the panel moderator where they are in the program – and specifically why they chose a panel format to accomplish that objective. So don’t forget to ask your meeting organizer not only when to have a panel discussion but why they are having that panel discussion at that point in the program!

Related Articles

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Advantages and Disadvantages of a Panel Discussion


For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership 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.

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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