Host a successful panel discussion

A Complete Guide to Panel Discussions

Provide your audience with the chance to hear industry insights from industry experts with a panel discussion! We’ll teach you everything there is to know about hosting one, from the benefits to ideas.
Hubilo
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November 7, 2022

If you’re ready to have a great discussion with industry panelists to gain quality insights and opinions about a specific topic, a panel discussion is the perfect addition to your event! In this blog, we’ll guide you through how to host one for yourself as well as inspiration for your next panel discussion.

What Is A Panel Discussion? 

 A panel discussion is a type of format where a certain topic is discussed amongst panelists and audience members. It’s a space where valuable insights can be gathered and expert opinions can be shared by important figures in the industry at hand. Typically, there are 4-5 panelists on a stage who answer audience questions, usually lasting around 45 minutes to one hour. A panel moderator will host the segment and ensure the discussion stays on topic between the panelists and audience. 

A Panel Discussion Is NOT: 

A one-on-one interview

A panel moderator shouldn’t just ask questions, but should add some meaning to the discussions as the dialog develops between panelists and audience members. They are responsible for livening up the event and getting audience members engaged with the discussion at hand. 

Answering questions live from the audience

While it’s important to ask panelists questions from the audience as a way to incorporate them into the discussion, it shouldn’t be audience questions entirely. The moderator should have some questions ready to be asked as a way to gain new perspectives from panelists.

A continuous set of presentations

A best practice for panel discussion is to have a slide or two ready to present that introduces the topic at hand and the panelists that will be speaking. The rest should be prioritizing audience and panel engagement without much reliance on any sort of presentation. 

What Are the Different Types of Panel Discussions? 

1. In- Person Panel Discussion

In this type of panel discussion, the event takes place fully in person, with the panelists sitting or standing towards the front of the room with an audience sitting in front of them.

2. Hybrid Panel Discussion

With a hybrid panel, the audience has the opportunity to join virtually. The panelists still meet in-person, but the event is live streamed and allows audience members to join virtually and ask questions through the stream. 

3. Virtual Panel Discussion 

With a virtual panel discussion, everything happens online through a video hosting platform like Hubilo. Audience members can engage through live chats and other engagement features so the panelists and moderator can provide the best insights and ideas. 

virtual panel discussions

How to Host A Successful Panel Discussion

Let’s go through the best practices to host a successful panel discussion of your own! 

1. Choose An Interesting Topic 

People will be more inclined to attend your panel discussion if you have a topic that’s interesting or buzz-worthy. Work with your team to narrow down different topic ideas that could generate the right audience for your discussion. 

2. Know Your Purpose 

FIguring out the purpose of your panel discussion is an important step that is crucial before you start in-depth planning. Think of the value you wish to provide audiences members with on the intended topic - do you wish that they gain a new perspective, or update them on the latest innovations in your industry? These are all important questions to figure out the exact purpose of your panel discussion. 

3. Prepare a List of Questions Ahead of Time 

To ensure your panel members give you and your audience their best insights and knowledge on the topic at hand, send them the questions you’ll be asking ahead of time. By sending them 2-3 questions you’re planning on asking before the discussion, they can prepare their answers to the best of their ability. 

4. Choose the Right Panelists 

To provide the most insightful experience for your discussion audience, you’ll want to gather quality panelists to join the discussion. Once you find the topic you’ll want to discuss, do some research on who you believe would be a great fit to speak on said subject. It’s a good idea to mix in panelists with a range of experience levels to get all sorts of perspectives as well. Check out what other panels your potential speakers have spoken on to see if they would qualify for yours. 

5. Give Time for Panelists to Prepare 

Other than the panel questions, additional information should be sent out to your panel guests to prepare them. Information on what your intended audience is like could be a great piece of insight for your panelists so they can prepare their answers beforehand. Your event will be even better when your panelists can prepare their answers, ensuring that they provide answers to the best of their abilities. 

6. A Strong Moderator Should Lead

A moderator who’s an expert at their craft will know that moderating takes a certain level of leadership. As the leader of the panel, a moderator is in charge of keeping the audience engaged with the material and making it fun for guests. It’s important that the moderator uses language that the audience understands and manages the pane; time in an effective manner. 

7. Introduce the Moderator to the Panelists

Make the panel environment more comfortable by introducing everyone involved. Host a small gathering, either virtual or in person, where the moderator and panelists can meet and get to know one another before the event. This will make the panel discussion better for everyone involved, as interacting with people you’ve met is better than with strangers. 

8. Prepare the Questions and Prompts 

One of the best practices for running a successful panel discussion is to come prepared for the event. This not only includes introducing the moderator and panelists, but also preparing questions and answers ahead of time. Have your moderator ask open ended questions so panelists can elaborate and have a chance to show their expertise. Your panelists’ background can also come into play with questions; asking them questions that relates to their professional background can give them a chance to open up on their professional experiences on the matter. 

9. Keep Your Questions Short and Relevant 

No one wants to sit through a panel question that takes an entire hour to answer, especially when there’s so many more thoughts to share. The moderator of your panel discussion should keep the questions they ask to a moderate length to ensure there’s plenty of time to cover enough questions. Keeping the questions short but impactful is what makes a great panel discussion! 

10. Make the Best Room for Attendees

Where you host your panel discussion should be chosen carefully, as the space will play an important role in how it is run. A few factors to consider are: 

Atmosphere

Narrow down what kind of atmosphere you’d like your event to have, and base the space off of that. For example, if you’re hosting a panel discussion off something in the medical field, hosting it in a gymnasium might not be the right atmosphere. 

Location

Hosting your panel discussion in a space where participants can focus and listen closely is ideal. Holding it in the middle of a busy area will be distracting and not give everyone the chance to retain as much information as you’d like. 

Size

Depending on the size you wish to make your discussion, choosing a space that meets the event size is key. You don’t want to fit a small audience into a room that is oversized, and vice versa. 

event space for your panel discussion

11. Practice Good Time Management 

One of the most important qualities you should have as a panel discussion moderator is time management. As you plan out a discussion agenda, make sure to include appropriate time for your event introduction as well as panelist introductions and a 10 minute Q & A segment. You’re in charge of making sure the discussion remains in your allotted time schedule, so it would be valuable to figure out how much time each question and answer will take. 

12. Prepare Your “Cutoff Phrases” Ahead of Time

Going along with the skill of time management, it’ll be helpful to have any phrases or things to say in case something goes over time or off topic. For example, if one panelist is giving an answer that’s longer than expected, say something along the lines of “Thank you for that insightful information, Sam! Let’s jump to John to see what he has to offer about this subject.” It can be beneficial to ask your panelists if they have any preferred cutoff phrases to ensure they’re comfortable and understand what is going on. 

13. Engage the Audience

Make the panel discussion fun for audience members, too! Have your event planner put together a live poll or include a Q & A session. Holding an online poll will benefit your discussion because you can gauge what your audience wants to learn about and base your questions off of their answers. Adding gamification like live polls to your event can also be fun for attendees to keep them engaged

14. Have Microphones in the Audience for the Q & A Session

When you hold your audience Q & A segment, have microphones placed in different areas of the event to make it easy for yourself and audience members. This way you won’t have to pass along just one mic and your audience won’t have to travel to receive one!  It’s also crucial to establish rules as your audience asks questions and reinforce that everyone behaves with respect. 

panel discussion Q&A segment

Most Commonly Used Panel Discussion Formats to Build Up Creativity

1. Structured Panel Discussion Formats 

  • Presentation Style

For this style, you would introduce the panelists and topics that will be discussed, and after each one of the panelists can go into their topics and insights followed by the audience Q &A. 

  • Initial Remarks Style 

This style is where panelists introduce themselves individually then go on to share their insights on a topic. The Q&A session would then be followed and guided by moderator questions. 

  • Mainstage Style

This is a shorter style format with no Q&A session, but rather an impactful one with panel members as the main speakers including the keynote speaker, main stage presenters, and panelists. 

  • Q&A Style

With this style, the time spent on panelist speakers will be short and will be more focused around questions; this includes moderator questions and audience questions. 

2. Get Inspiration from a Popular Movie or Show 

There are so many great TV shows and movies that you can model your panel discussion after! You can choose from hot seat formats that model classic shows like American Idol or The Voice, or talk show formats like “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Where the tv hosts and guests talk about a number of topics. 

3. Audience Driven Panel Discussion Formats 

WIth audience driven panel discussion formats, you can allow them to lead the conversation. These can be:

  •  Crowdsourced question format 

With this format, you can have guests submit their questions in one place before the event through an app or survey. You can use those results to collect questions that seem to be the most popular for your panel. 

  • Capture the Question format

In small groups, have each one think of questions they’d like to ask and have each group select one to ask the next question. 

  • Screened Question Format

With this kind of format, the audience submits any questions they have through social media like Twitter, meeting cards, or an event app. 

4. Room Set Panel Discussion Formats 

Not only is the room where you hold a panel discussion very important, but also the way the room is set up. There are a few setup options that you can use for your panel discussion, including an empty chair format, musical chair format, or fishbowl format. Depending on what you’d like to talk about or how you want to discuss the topics, you can use different formats!

5. Event Theme Panel Discussion Formats 

 There are different types of event theme formats that you can choose from for your panel discussion. They can be a theme based on your location, a theme based on the topics being discussed, or a theme based on the panel format. 

Best technology to use for panel discussions

Best Technology to Use for Virtual Panel Discussions

If you decide to host a panel discussion virtually, there are a variety of hosting platforms to choose from. Each platform is different and you can choose one that fits the goals of your discussion. With a platform like Hubilo, you can include a number of engagement features that will have your audience excited to attend. You can include gamification, live chats, and polls and surveys. Analytics is another element Hubilo offers that allows you to track how your event went and how your audience interacted with the discussion. 

Conclusion 

Panel discussions are one of the best ways to spread expert information and insights on any topic at hand. With the help of this guide, you’re on your way to hosting one of the best panel discussions yet! For extra assistance in hosting a virtual panel discussion, reach out to the experts at Hubilo!

Author
Hubilo

Hubilo is the event professional’s event platform for live, hybrid, and virtual events. Founded over 5 years ago to revolutionize engagement at in-person events, the company makes it easy to bring people together anywhere, anytime. Hubilo’s powerful engagement features, personal client experience team, and custom branding tools have helped create over 12K events and counting. Headquartered in Bangalore and San Francisco, Hubilo’s nearly 400 employees are dedicated to co-creating the world’s most important events: yours.

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