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Why Panel Discussions Fail?

Panel discussions are great opportunities for bringing minds together to discuss different viewpoints.

Y bronze Author: Yasmineelbaz
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Most events we have witnessed lately have included panel discussions on their agendas. Despite having the great potential to add massive value to the audience, in many situations, they do nothing but fill the gap between the rest of the event’s talks.

To understand how this could happen, let’s first review what panel discussions should be about.

A panel discussion is a structured conversation that gathers multiple experts to explore a specific topic, share their perspectives, and engage in live dialogue. This format is highly effective in events as it allows the sharing of various viewpoints, fostering a rich experience for the audience. In addition to this, they encourage audience participation through Q&A sessions, making attendees feel more involved and gaining a deeper understanding of the topic. Even though that sounds like common sense, many events fail to implement it effectively.

Below are some of the top reasons that could lead to panel discussion failure:

1) Bringing together the wrong people.

The right choice of panelists is crucial, and being conscious of whom you should bring could help you have a healthy discussion with individuals of the same level of power and expertise. Additionally, selecting the right moderator for the topic and panelists is vital, as you cannot simply choose an engaging person or a celebrity, thinking this will solely make the discussion succeed. There are plenty of factors to consider when selecting the right moderator, including their public speaking experience, profile, character, and communication skills.

2) Having too many panelists.

Consider this: How long does each panelist have to share their viewpoints if you invite six speakers to your one-hour panel discussion? Excluding the opening statement, a brief introduction for each speaker, and the closing statement, each panelist would have around five to six minutes. Do you believe five minutes is adequate for each panelist to share their viewpoint, comment on other panelists’ perspectives, and engage in a meaningful discussion? Of course not! This leads us to the next mistake.

3) Implementing panel discussions as one-to-one interviews.

Typically, due to moderators having limited time and five to six invited panelists, sometimes more, they tend to ask questions and receive answers, and that’s it! This approach leaves no room for the moderator’s comments or questions triggered by the panelists’ answers, nor time for commenting on other speakers’ perspectives.

Many moderators ask questions for each panelist one after another, rather than building the dialogue into a conversation.

4) Treating panel discussions as if they are a series of presentations, one after another.

The panel format should allow for a brief introduction and a discussion between the panelists and the audience. The essence of a panel discussion is the “DISCUSSION,” but transforming it into a sequence of small talks completely misses the point of this type of speaking engagement.

5) Treating panel discussions as if they were debates.

Usually, it’s wise to invite speakers with different yet complementary perspectives rather than opposing perspectives. If you include panelists with competitive objectives, the results will be completely different than what you aim for, turning the discussion into a noisy, unsuccessful debate. Successful debates should include two or three individuals as a maximum, giving both sides enough time to discuss their viewpoints and refute the other party’s perspective.

6) Time management failure.

This is the top challenge for every panel discussion moderator. Lack of experience could lead to the moderator’s inability to control the discussion, resulting in some panelists dominating the conversation, which can turn the entire experience negative for both the panelists and the audience.

As the moderator, you are responsible for ensuring that the discussion stays within the allocated time. When planning the discussion, factor in the appropriate time for the panel’s introduction, the panelists’ introductions, and a 10-minute Q&A segment for audience questions. It would also be helpful to have prearranged phrases or prompts in case a speaker exceeds their allotted time or goes off-topic. The moderator should discuss these cues with the panelists before the event so they understand how to respond.

7) Ignoring the needed arrangements with the panelists before the event.

I’ve coached hundreds of panelists, and unfortunately, one of the most annoying things in the event coordination process is sharing the questions and discussion points at the last minute or making multiple changes to the panelists’ list, which would also affect the panelists’ preparation for their viewpoints.

That’s why it’s recommended that the discussion points be shared as early as possible and that all the panelists meet before the event to discuss the rules, introduce them to each other, and even do some rehearsals for high-level discussions.

Panel discussions are great opportunities for bringing minds together to discuss different viewpoints. However, losing the main essence of the dialogue can turn it into a flow of unsynchronized talks that neither complement each other nor stand alone as valuable contributions.

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