Monday, March 19, 2012

What have we done to the panel discussion? How would you reform it?

Is it me, or are panel discussions in trouble? When they're done right, panels can be an inspiring source of varied ideas, sparkling discussion and crackling energy. But more often, you get panels that:
  • Have too many speakers, like the one I turned down that wanted eight speakers, each of whom would have 2.5 minutes to speak. 
  • Find moderators fumbling to introduce the speakers, manage the room or handle the questions.
  • Are just pitchfests for the speakers, who don't add value by speaking about more than what they are selling.
  • Take up too much time with slides. Some organizers--believe it or not--feel strongly that panelists by definition should not use slides, which automatically add transition time as speakers get their decks up and running.
  • Run over the speakers' time and into question time. If speakers aren't well coordinated or controlled, you can count on speakers taking more time than allotted--even if it means less time for questions.
I've even started to see the "panel keynote" rear its head, sometimes with just two panelists...which screams "We couldn't make up our minds about who should carry the message for this conference" to me, at least.

I asked readers for their pet peeves about panels. Here are some of their thoughts:
  • On Twitter, Andrea Lewicki said "When panelists are unprepared, and it's clear that one or more of them "just showed up."
  • On Facebook, Martha Denton called out "Disrespectful panelists who talk over each other, repeat what other panelists said and don't answer questions properly, instead speaking to whatever their latest push is." And Kathleen Keesling shared positive and negative feedback: "I really enjoy the discussions where conversation opens up here and there for questions and ideas. I dislike one-way lectures because I feel like I'm eavesdropping, or that it is pre-taped. Blech!"
What are your panel pet peeves--whether you're a speaker, moderator or audience member? How would you reform panel discussions? Would you forbid slides? Set time limits? Do away with them altogether? Add to our list in the comments. 

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