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Avoid The BORING, 7 Ways To Making A Rocking Panel - Plus Weekend Reads!

We have all been there, stuck watching what seems like an endless panel, with panelists that drone on and on and on and on. There is no escaping the boring. What's worse, you walk away without any new insights or understanding. Basically the entire thing was a waste of time.

These horrible panel discussions make you never want to attend another panel, ever again. More than 63% of people say panel discussions are mediocre or worse, that's the find from a survey by Quality Process Consultant.

Kristin Arnold is the President of Quality Process Consultants. She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program there are ways to make panel discussions not only exciting but thought provoking too.


"It is deceptively easy to produce a panel. When they are done well they are fabulous. When they are a lazy format, if you don’t put the planning, preparation and intention out about picking a big topic that the audience cares about then they can be quite horrid," said Arnold.

The ingredients to a good panel:

  1. Pick a topic that is of interest to the audience, not just the panelists

  2. Have a skilled moderator or facilitator

  3. Pick interesting and articulate panelists who have a message

"A lot of times we end up letting the panelist give a presentation instead of being a panelist," said Arnold. "Those presentations go too long or the introductions go too long, so the Q&A gets shortened at the end. Today’s audiences are demanding more interaction. The earlier you can get the audience involved, even before the panel discussion starts through social media efforts and find out what they really want to know, then you can have a lively and engaging conversation that provides value to the audience."

Limit the slide deck

"If you have a panelist who has more than one or two key slides that they want to show to illustrate a point, I might suggest this person actually deserves a speaking spot before the panel discussion," said Arnold. "If they have some value that the audience really needs to hear and listen to as a presentation then make that ahead of time. Don’t make that part of the panel discussion because if you do that you are sending a cue to the audience that we are not going to have a conversation here. Conversations are not about presentations."

Set the stage for conversation

"If you think about the talk shows that are really engaging, they are not sitting behind a white-draped table. They are usually sitting in nice, comfortable chairs. It is more chatty," said Arnold. "People want the real stuff, they don’t want to be talked at. They don’t want to be given the party line, they want to know what is behind the curtain. Give me the dirt. They want stuff that they can’t find on Google."

Use the prep-calls wisely

"The pre-conference call is to allow the panelists to understand the process that you are going to use. As the facilitator you are managing the process. You set the tone and the format. You say, ‘Here are the ground rules.' The content you save for later," said Arnold. "But as a good moderator, you need to do your homework. You need to research what the different positions are, what each panelist is bringing to the table, that way you know where to guide the conversation. You have to be the instigator to an exciting dialogue."

Moderator must-dos

"Don’t lie to your audience. This is part of the job of the moderator is to set the tone and set the process in play. If you are going to save questions until the end, tell that to the audience. Treat them like adults," said Arnold.

Tap the audience

"Sometimes you know you have an expert in the audience. Why don’t you bring that person into the conversation? Or you can take a poll and say how many of you have experience this? Who has a best practice they would like to offer?" said Arnold.

The fine line on preparation:

  • Key Insight: "There is a fine line between giving a nudge and being a pain in the butt. As a moderator I like to talk to each of the panelists to figure out what their perspective is. What are the three points that they are trying to make. If I get an awkward silence on the other end of the phone, then I know I have a little work to do. But if I have someone who looks like they have their act together, then I believe they have a depth of knowledge, that they have some experience, are eloquent and they are willing to do the work," said Arnold.

"What kills a panel is if you get panelists because they have a sexy resume and that's it. They also need to be articulate or they might not have the experience. You want to make sure you have a good and diverse panel. You don’t want all guys up there. Or one flavor of a personality," said Arnold. "Moderators should reach out to the audience, to let them know what they are looking from the panel."

Arnold says you know you have a good moderator when:

  • You get good references and testimonials

  • Watch them live or on video if you can

  • You can get a sense if they know what they are doing from your phone conversations with them

  • They are focused?

  • They are crisp in their thoughts

  • They link your thoughts with another person

"A facilitator has to be confident in the process, you have to be the champion of the audience."

Weekend reads

We know weekend time is precious, so we try to pull some stories throughout the week that are worth your time… and may just plant a seed for new ideas…

  • I mentioned this earlier in the week, but I think it is thoughtful and worth an addition mention: Tim O’Reilly on the challenges of getting the best and brightest in government technology: “They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me”: Bringing in Silicon Valley’s best and brightest is a powerful part of the solution, but it can blind us to the harder work still to be done.The most poignant lesson comes at the end of the article, when Google Site Reliability Engineer Mikey Dickerson (the guy in the T-shirt), reflecting back on his months of nonstop work to fix the broken healthcare.gov site, puts words to the social and status structures that so clearly divide the Federal government from “metaphysical Silicon Valley.” "It was only when they were desperate that they turned to us.... They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me. Maybe this will be a lesson for them. Maybe that will change."

  • RELATED: O’Reilly references Time magazine’s piece: Obama's Trauma Team: How an unlikely group of high-tech wizards revived Obama's troubled HealthCare.gov that is a must read

  • The Secret Skill Behind Being An Innovator [By Time Magazine contributor, Random House author and New America Foundation] : There’s a popular notion that innovation arrives like a bolt out of the blue, as a radical departure from previous knowledge—when really, most new ideas are extensions, twists, variations on what’s come before. The skill of generating innovations is largely the skill of putting old things together in a new way, or looking at a familiar idea from a novel perspective, or using what we know already to understand something new. I say “skill” because we don’t have to leave these encounters up to chance. We don’t have wait for lightning to strike. We can, right now, hone our ability to deploy analogies. Analogies—comparing one entity to another, apparently different entity—is one of the most powerful tools humans have for understanding our world and for generating new knowledge.

  • Fourteen Interview Questions to Help You Hire Your Next Innovator [strategy+business post by Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO of futurethink and author of Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution] Questions to ask that can help you find people who have key skills: Strategic imagination; Provocative inquiry; Creative problem solving; Agility; and Resilience

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