Panel Discussion 101: How to Host Captivating Conversations
Panel discussions are essential for promoting conversations and exchanging diverse viewpoints. Whether you’re organizing a conference or workshop, knowing how to conduct a panel discussion is crucial for creating engaging dialogues.
Panels provide an opportunity for professionals to share their expertise on specific topics, giving attendees a chance to learn valuable information. By organizing well-structured discussions, you can create a content-rich environment that promotes networking.
This Superevent guide will walk you through the process of organizing (and hosting) captivating and impactful panel discussions. Read on for expert guidance on tools, tips, and strategies for setting up a panel discussion.
What Is a Panel Discussion?
Panel discussions are structured conversations where experts or practitioners share their opinions and knowledge on a specific topic (often multiple).
There are no hard-and-fast rules for panel discussions, but there are some general guidelines most panel discussions follow.
Usually, there are three to five panelists (depending on the topic and duration), and one to two moderators who facilitate the conversation, with a discussion usually lasting between 45 and 60 minutes. Most panel discussions have a live or virtual audience that can interact with the panel at set times through Q&A sessions or by submitting questions and comments via virtual chat.
Examples of Panel Discussion
2023 NJBIZ Small Business Challenges Panel Discussion
The panel discussion is an event organized by NJBIZ to address small business challenges.
It involves a moderator and a panel of experts who share insights and knowledge on various topics. Attendees ask questions and engage in discussions with the panelists during the Q&A portions of the event.
2022 Telehealth Retrospective & 2023 Predictions
This panel discussion featured industry leaders and experts who retrospectively looked at the telehealth and virtual care market trends in 2022.
The format involves a moderated discussion with panelists sharing their insights and perspectives on the subject.
AAPI Leadership Panel Discussion 2023
The AAPI Leadership Panel showcases the accomplishments and stories of AAPI leaders at UCSF, covering topics like identity, career growth, and workplace challenges.
The event will be held online, and participants can register beforehand.
Why Are Panel Discussions Important?
Educate on a Particular Topic
Panel discussions bring together experts and knowledgeable individuals who comprehensively understand a specific subject. For instance, at a technology conference, a panel of cybersecurity experts can shed light on emerging threats and preventive measures.
Offer Valuable Insight & Spark Interest
Panels gather diverse viewpoints, enhancing the quality of insights shared. For instance, a panel of entrepreneurs discussing their successes and failures can offer real-world experiences, giving the audience valuable advice.
Explore Different Perspectives
Panels encourage healthy debates by presenting contrasting perspectives. A panel featuring scientists, policymakers, and activists in a climate change conference might present differing viewpoints on mitigation strategies. This exploration broadens attendees’ horizons, encouraging critical thinking and a well-rounded understanding of complex issues.
How To Organize a Panel Discussion
1. Choose a Great Event Management App
Using an event management app can simplify the organization process.
These platforms offer features for attendee registration, promotion, and engagement, ensuring a seamless experience for organizers and participants. To find a professional event management app for your panel discussion:
- Explore different event management apps with your desired features (e.g., live streaming, attendee engagement, etc.).
- Define your event requirements (e.g., attendee count, format (virtual/in-person), engagement needs, etc.).
- Evaluate apps side by side through demos and trials to directly compare attendee registration, communication tools, analytics, and surveys.
- Read reviews to learn from others’ experiences.
To give an example of an event management platform, consider Superevent.
Our all-in-one platform includes all the features and tools organizers need to plan and execute memorable, rewarding panel discussions—whether they’re in-person, virtual, or hybrid.
For organizers, there are crucial features for creating on-brand web and native mobile apps, adding and managing staff, speakers, and attendees, running polls, and precise analytics.
For attendees, there are many features designed to enhance the experience, such as Q&A support, agenda creation, alerts and reminders, detailed profiles and messaging, and survey capabilities.
2. Choose a Topic That Resonates
When choosing a topic for your panel, it’s crucial to consider how relevant and significant it is to the industry.
The topic should be interesting enough to hold the panelists’ attention and encourage them to have strong opinions. Think about significant industry trends that are either currently impacting the industry or are likely to soon.
An example? AI — this technology is already revolutionizing almost every industry, with big things still on the horizon.
3. Define the Panel Objectives
Evaluate the worth or primary drive behind organizing the panel discussion. Identify the crucial subjects or themes you wish to cover and consider what you expect the audience to glean from the discussion.
Examples of panel discussion objectives include:
- Informative discussion (e.g., “To provide attendees with a comprehensive understanding of recent advancements in renewable energy technologies, including their benefits and implementation challenges.”)
- Inspirational sharing (e.g., “To inspire emerging entrepreneurs by showcasing panelists’ personal journeys, lessons learned, and strategies for overcoming obstacles.”)
- Debate and exploration (e.g., “To foster a lively debate among panelists regarding the ethical implications of AI-driven decision-making in healthcare, exploring both the potential benefits and concerns.”)
4. Pick a Skilled Moderator
A skilled moderator possesses the necessary abilities to transform a session into an intriguing and productive discussion.
To choose an effective moderator for your panel discussion:
- Expertise: Choose a moderator who is knowledgeable about the topic.
- Public Speaking Ability: Choose someone with strong public communication skills.
- Neutrality: Prioritize objectivity and neutrality.
- Experience: Look for past moderation experience.
- Preparation: Select a moderator who prepares and researches.
- Collaboration: Involve panelists in the decision (if possible).
5. Find the Right Panelists
Panelists greatly influence the quality and value of a conversation. Esteemed and engaging panelists build trust and captivate the audience—but how do you find them?
Below are factors to consider when selecting panelists:
- Expertise: In-depth knowledge of the topic.
- Diversity: From diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.
- Recognizable: Leaders in the field who people want to hear from.
- Public Speaking Ability: Able to clearly articulate their thoughts and opinions.
- Availability: Available at the time of the event.
Scan related panel line-ups, reach out to industry leaders, and partner with organizations that have access to potential panelists.
6. Identify the Format
The panel discussion format sets the stage for how ideas are shared, discussions unfold, and audience engagement occurs.
Here are key considerations for identifying the format that best suits your panel discussion:
- Panel format: Determine if your panel will be virtual, in-person, or a combination of both. Consider logistical factors, audience preferences, and available technology.
- Physical setup: For in-person panels, consider seating arrangements, podium placement, and lighting to ensure clear sight lines for panelists and the audience.
- Virtual platform: If going virtual, choose a reliable platform with interactive features and capacity for attendees.
- Engagement tools: Select tools like live polls, Q&A sessions, and real-time chat to engage the audience regardless of the format.
- Duration and timing: Determine the length of the panel discussion, considering attendee attention spans and scheduling breaks if necessary.
- Opening and closing: Plan engaging opening remarks and a closing statement to summarize key takeaways and encourage further exploration.
- Structured vs. free-flowing: Decide whether the discussion will follow a structured agenda or allow for spontaneous conversations based on objectives.
- Audience interaction: Determine how attendees interact with panelists, such as real-time questions or curated inquiries.
7. Prepare Questions and Prompts
Questions and prompts guide the conversation, encourage insightful responses, and ensure that the audience gains valuable takeaways.
Examples of Engaging Questions and Prompts:
- Open-ended question (e.g., “How do you envision the role of artificial intelligence in healthcare a decade from now?”)
- Hypothetical scenario (e.g., “If you had unlimited resources, how would you address the global climate crisis?”)
- Expertise-centric query (e.g., “Given your background in sustainability, how can businesses adopt greener practices without sacrificing profitability?”)
- Comparative inquiry (e.g., What are the key differences between traditional marketing and the modern digital landscape?”)
- Audience interaction (e.g., “We have a question from our virtual audience. They’re asking: How can individuals contribute to biodiversity conservation in their daily lives?”)
- Future-focused prompt (e.g., “What emerging technologies do you believe will significantly impact education in the next five years?”)
- Real-life example (e.g., “Can you share a case where your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion directly led to improved business outcomes?”)
8. Set up the environment properly
Ensure that the physical or virtual space is set up to promote active participation from all participants, including the audience.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to get it right:
- Choose the right venue: Ensure it offers proper lighting, acoustics, and seating.
- Stage or seating arrangement: Arrange seating so the audience can see panelists. A raised stage can provide better visibility for in-person events.
- Audio-visual setup: Ensure high-quality audio and camera equipment, including microphones for panelists.
- Proper lighting: Ensure even lighting without shadows, ensuring everyone is visible.
- Visual aids: If using slides or visual aids, set up projectors or screens to be visible to both panelists and the audience without obstruction.
- Timekeeping: Have visible timekeeping devices for both panelists and the moderator to manage speaking times effectively.
- Networking space: Allocate space for networking before and after the panel, allowing attendees to connect with each other (and panelists).
- Accessibility: Ensure the venue is accessible to all attendees, including those with disabilities. Provide ramps, accessible seating, and accommodations as needed.
- Virtual setup considerations: When organizing virtual panel discussions, it is important to choose a dependable virtual event platform like Supervent that provides features like live streaming, Q&A sessions, voting options, and chat.
9. Engage the audience
An engaged audience is more likely to absorb information, ask insightful questions, and leave with a positive impression. Here are a few things you can offer to engage the audience effectively:
- Offer engaging introductions
- Use visuals (slides, videos, graphics)
- Use polls, surveys, games, and quizzes
- Host Q&A sessions
- Make your event multilingual
- Engage on social media
- Plan surprises (guests, experiences, gifts, etc.)
10. Gather Feedback
Feedback provides insights into what went well, what could be improved, and how to create an even more impactful experience next time. Here’s how to effectively collect feedback:
- Use online surveys (like the ones we offer at Superevent) to gather feedback from panelists and the audience
- Frame structured questions that address specific aspects of the discussion
- Include open-ended questions to capture qualitative feedback
- Send surveys promptly after the panel discussion
- Offer the option for anonymous feedback
- Ask panelists about their experience, discussion quality, moderation effectiveness, and suggestions for improvement
- Collect feedback on topic relevance, panelist interactions, engagement methods, and overall value gained from attending
- Include questions about attendees’ backgrounds, interests, and expectations
- Carefully review and analyze feedback for trends, areas of improvement, and noteworthy strengths.
Best Practices In Conducting A Panel Discussion
- Meet the speakers before the event: Connecting panelists before the event builds rapport and understanding, enhancing their on-stage chemistry.
- Shorten introductions & questions: Concise introductions and focused questions maintain the audience’s attention and leave more time for discussions. Hence, instead of lengthy bios, briefly mention panelists’ credentials and move swiftly to the first question.
- Keep the conversation moving: An active exchange of ideas among panelists creates a dynamic atmosphere that engages attendees.
- Manage time effectively: Sticking to the schedule maintains attendees’ interest and ensures all planned segments are covered. Allocate 5 minutes per panelist for opening statements. Use a timer to signal when it’s time to move to the next panelist, ensuring equal speaking opportunities.
- Mix in audience questions throughout: Integrating audience questions provides real-time engagement and addresses attendees’ interests.
- Conclude properly: A clear conclusion summarizes key takeaways, leaving a lasting impression on attendees.
Preparing for a panel discussion can feel overwhelming, but with the right guidance (and tools) it’s a lot easier. If you’re struggling, work through the steps outlined above and download our panel discussion checklist for more information.
At Superevent, we offer event organizers an all-in-one platform for creating, branding, and executing high-quality panel discussions, town halls, summits, and conferences. With a range of organizer- and attendee-focused features, you have access to all the tools you need for success in this space.