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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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