In Public Relations, panel discussion is a common phrase. You are either pitching your client to be in one or you are preparing your client who has opted to be in one or you are just attending or organising one. Last month was a storm after a lull. Suddenly, out of the blue two days in succession two gentlemen called me up to invite me to moderate a panel discussion for an internal event in their respective offices on 10th August and 24th August receptively. Well, both the panels were planned to be different but had several commonalities. I prefer being part of a panel rather than moderating but I agreed to moderate and at the end of the discussion I realised they went off well and I got decent audience feedback. So, what makes a panel discussion tick? Here are my observations in retrospect:
- Begin with the end in mind – It’s good to know what you want to achieve at the end of the discussion for the benefit of the audience and the organiser. Aligning panellists on this goal right at the start and stating the objective is the first rule of a successful discussion.
- Involve the audience in equal measure – Right at the start pose a question to the audience or open questions to the floor to bring in engagement and excitement. Requesting the audience to ask questions and not make comments is important.
- An advance call is not a requirement – While I have always had panellists at PRAXIS get on to advance calls, both these panels I moderated did not have scope for advance calls other than a mail from the organiser in both cases with a set of questions they’d like us to address.
- Get animated during the discussion – To make it lively, ensure you sit, stand and go to at least one member of the audience with the microphone to make it personal and also charged up. The audience is expecting a performance that comes with insights. So, plan accordingly.
- Create controversy – Get couple of panellists to disagree on something that leads to a debate or argument. This is not just great to bring in more vibrancy but also helps the audience to think differently and appreciate the distinct points of view that come out of it.
- Surprise the panellists – Do adequate research on one or more panellists and throw that information at the start or during the discussion. It makes the entire flow richer and delightful. Ensure that the elements shared do not upset anyone.
- Don’t let panellists have a free run – Some panellists love to go on and on. Remind them just before you start and in between that we are in an age of 280 characters and this is a discussion and not a collection of keynotes. Interject as often as you can but strategically.
- Manage time well – Respecting the time allotted is important especially for the audience. If one can plan the questions in advance and how much time is allotted for each speaker per question, this will benefit everyone and make the entire experience enriching for all.