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Five Top Tips For Hosting A Stimulating Panel Discussion

Panel discussions are often an element of conferences and events, either taking place as part of the main proceedings, or as a breakout event. They offer the opportunity to exchange diverse views, raise pertinent questions, and inform and engage the audience. However, hosting an interesting and well-balanced panel discussion takes some careful planning.


Here are some tips for organising a well-structured and informative panel discussion that will promote further networking and add value to the event. 


Select a theme and objectives

First and foremost you need to pick a relevant topic that will inform, educate, and inspire the audience. This could be around the latest developments in technology or scientific progress in the field; new theories or working practices, or any other issues that will benefit from a deeper and more nuanced examination.


Craft engaging and open-ended questions that will encourage dialogue, rather than illicit a simple black or white response. Questions that centre on the whys, hows, and what-ifs will help to facilitate lively debate and discussion, and prompt greater elaboration on the subject matter.  


Decide on the panellists

Selecting the right panellists is key to a successful discussion. Aim for three to five panellists, plus a moderator who will facilitate the conversation. The panellists will typically be industry leaders or experts in their field who are able to bring depth of knowledge and fresh insights into the topic at hand. 


Aim for a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives among the panellists to create a well-rounded and thoughtful discussion. The panellists do not need to be highly experienced public speakers, but they should be articulate individuals who can communicate well and are genuinely passionate about the topic. 


Decide on the location and duration of the discussion

The next step is to decide when and where the discussion will take place, who the audience will be, and how long it will take. Usually, panel discussions last for between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on the nature of the subject and the amount of participants. 


The discussion could be a part of the main schedule of events and take place in the conference hall, or it could be a smaller session that takes place in a different location. If you intend the panel discussion to be a side event, make sure that the conference venue has adequate space to accommodate this. 


Appoint a skilled moderator 

The moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track and enabling a balanced conversation. They should prevent any individual from dominating the discussion or interrupting others, and encourage everyone to make an equal contribution. They should be vigilant for signs that the discussion is straying off-topic, and manage time well.


Incorporate a Q&A session

Involve the audience by including an interactive element such as a Q&A session. This will boost engagement and create a well-rounded and memorable discussion. At the end of the event, wrap up the discussion with a summary of the main points and key messages.


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