Panel discussions are a popular feature at many events. By bringing together several speakers, event organisers are able to offer the audience a thought-provoking and engaging discussion that analyses a topic from different angles. But here comes the challenge.
The more parties involved, the more difficult it is to synchronise them all and keep the discussion on track. This can cause your panel to turn into a private conversation between the speakers, leaving the most important element, the audience, out of the debate.
So how do you organise a discussion that both your panelists and your audience will enjoy? Like many things in the event world, organising a successful panel starts with careful planning.
Before the event
1. Synchronise before the event
As a host, it is absolutely crucial that you synchronise with your panelists before the event. Organise a conference call, during which you brief your guests about the discussion topics and format so that you are all on the same page. Present them the points that you plan to touch on so they can prepare their input. Ask them what they would like to bring to the debate and from which angle they will approach the topic.
It’s also important to take time to understand exactly who your panelists are. Go beyond their bio to find out what their motivations are for joining your panel and what sort of key messages they’re keen to present. This will help you create a discussion that is valuable for all parties involved.
2. Spread the word
To fill up the room, you need to let people know that you’re hosting a panel discussion in the first place. The great thing about panels is that you have a number of industry experts to help you spread the word – your panelists. As a host, start posting well before the event to get the word out about your panelists, and encourage them to do the same. The more people onboard, the wider the social media reach when they share the news.
During the event
3. Introduce the panelists and break the ice
Make the introduction snappy and to-the-point so the audience knows who will be talking with them. To make tweeting easier for your audience, you can display the panelists’ names with their Twitter handles during the intro time.
A successful breaking of the ice should create a bond between your panelists and audience. Live polling is a great way to do this. You don’t want to ask anything too personal, but a mixture of playful, professional and industry-relevant questions will help you entertain people and also help you to understand who sits in the audience, so you can adjust your lingo accordingly.
4. Set the ideal length
The ideal length of the panel discussion is generally between 45-60 minutes. It’s important to have a certain structure of the discussion so you cover what you intend to within the dedicated time allotment. Check regularly how much time you have left, and don’t be afraid to adjust the pace of the conversation accordingly. As the host, it is your job to moderate the panel discussion so all topics are covered.
5. Incorporate the audience’s questions
Don’t wait until the end of the session to start addressing the questions from the audience. Once the discussion starts rolling, bring your audience into the discussion. You can involve your audience from the get-go, however, when many in the audience fear public speaking, it’s not the easiest task to accomplish. Try an anonymous audience engagement tool that allows everyone in the room to ask questions and upvote the ones that they find the most interesting.
6. Encourage tweeting
Live-tweeting is a super efficient way to get your message across to wide audiences. To boost tweeting during the panel, you can set up tweet walls to let your audience share the “stage glory”. Make no assumption that your audience knows the right hashtag. Feel free to display it at the start or on a welcome pamphlet, along with the Twitter handles of your speakers.
After the event
7. Respond to the social media buzz
Tweets, re-shares and mentions are all a form of gratitude after a well-executed panel discussion. Don’t hesitate to respond to the social buzz to reconnect with your audience after the event. Send thank you notes to the tweets with feedback, retweet the quotes and follow the most active members of your audience.
8. Keep the conversation going
In addition to responding to social media reactions, keep the conversation going by summarising the main points in a blog post. Share the snapshots, the videos or an infographic with live poll results to relive the panel discussion and re-engage your audience for next time.
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