Panels are one of the most widely used session formats at conferences. Some folks love them. Most despise them. Panels usually yield very low learning value. They are comparable to a lecture with a retention value the same as reading a report...about 10%.
Many conference organizers have a hard time letting go of panels. It's the simplest and quickest format for assembling the conference program. Panels put the kids in the show and lead to network boosted attendance. They often yield water-downed learning experiences that do not progress an industry.
Back in the day, a panel of experts was popular because the knowledge and wisdom gap between the stage and the audience was steep. Over the past ten years, that gap has significantly closed.
Many organizers attempt to improve panel sessions by scheduling session planning calls, removing the head table and using comfy chairs. Some think the path to improvement is using some cool audience response technology so the session is interactive. Truth be told, these tweaks rarely make a difference.
The main strategies for improving panels:
Relevancy - Make sure the topic & LO's are future focused and not too broad.
Learning Design - What will the audience do during the presentation? Hint - Value is low when they are passive.
We're continuing our webinar series at 2:00 PM EST on Wednesday May 11th. Topic will be How Conference Networking Improves Participants' Brain Health presented by Sarah Michel, CSP. If you'd like to participate, click here to review and register.
Panels can be droning, painful exercises in ego-fluffing. They can feature overbearing panelists who commandeer the discussion and cow the other panelists-and the moderators who let them-into submission. They can not only not engage the audience, but actually disengage them by ignoring them altogether. They can be, in the words of author, speaker, and panel-improvement evangelist Kristin Arnold, "horrid."
A big mistake conference organizers make with panels is not holding them accountable for the learning outcomes of the session. Coach the moderator and the panel participants just like you would a solo speaker for any other educational session.
TED's speaker commandments, we created the Ten Panel Commandments.
There are few worse things for a group then putting on a bad event. It is worse then no event. A boring or poorly run program will send your participants running for the hills next time and, worse, they will tell their friends not to go. My advice is always "don't do it unless you can do it well" - even the smallest program.
If you're naturally good at public speaking and can keep an audience engaged for at least thirty minutes straight, keynotes and presentations may be your thing. If you're an expert who enjoys sparring with your peers, then your PR dream team will probably pitch you as a panelist extraordinaire.
Paneling was all the rage in basement remodeling when I was growing up in the '70s. It was affordable, easy to install, and a sure sign of homeowner coolness. Today, paneling is a major turnoff for home buyers. Do you see where I'm going with this?