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7 ways to run a great panel at a conference

We've all sat through endless, unfocused panel discussions.  Here are my top 8 tips to running a tight panel:

  1. Get a strong moderator.  Someone who isn't afraid to cut off a rambling speaker.  A moderator's job is not to keep panelists happy — it is to serve the audience by managing the panelists.
  2. Provide a little structure.  I always ask panelists to prepare exactly two slides: one story and three lessons.  They each get exactly 5 minutes to talk about it.  It's a great way to get a lot of ideas out fast and still leave time for discussion.
  3. Say NO. Don't humor the one panelist who wants to do a demo, show a video, etc.  Guaranteed that this is the one that will go way too long with self-promotional babble. Enforce your format.
  4. Cut off anyone who tries to sell. The audience will love you.  The panelist will understand.
  5. Make sure everyone can see a clock.  Humans have a weak sense of time.  Put clocks where everyone can see how long they've been talking.
  6. Everyone gets a microphone.  Event planners save a buck by trying to share mics, but waiting for mics to be passed around kills any chance of natural conversation.
  7. Share a PC.  Don't waste time switching between machines — this also kills the conversation flow.

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  1. @toddlucier June 8, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Thanks Andy.
    This short post should be included in any event planner manual. Poor panel management makes MOST conference settings unexciting and indeed BORING.
    Appreciate your short notes….. keeping panelist opening remarks brief is what makes a panel rock.
    The moderator needs to know they are meeting the needs of the audience. Clear thinking.

  2. Jay Berkowitz June 8, 2009 at 9:59 am #

    Andy (and Team):
    I am a HUGE fan of panels with slide presentations. Give me (and 2 other panelists) 10 minutes to share my best 10 slides and you’ll have great content for the audience to ask questions about. Panels with no slide presentations get terrible questions and are generally quite useless.
    I agree that you have to manage a panel to ensure everyone stays within their allotted time. When I am asked to moderate a panel, I ask each panelist to present 7 minutes, this ensures we get introductions and presentations done in 30 minutes, leaving 30 minutes for great questions.
    Please have a look at some of my recent slides here:
    PS – If you like the slides, please tell a friend (this is the Word of Mouth Marketing Blog after all!)

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