How to Make a Panel Discussion Succeed


Panel discussions at events should not be free-for-all conversations. But too often, they are. How many times have you been at an event where it’s obvious that the panelists who were supposed to provide a cogent discussion about a topic instead wing it? Or fail to listen to each other and really add any value?

From overly agreeable panelists to unprepared moderators, there are a number of reasons that a panel discussion can quickly go downhill, leaving audience members disconnected with what’s happening onstage. It’s important to understand that there is a clear difference between panel presentations and solo presentations so that you can prepare for the session properly. Learning how to make a panel discussion succeed will take your next panel from an average discussion to a riveting event that people are talking about for months to come. Here are some tips to apply:

Choose varied participants who will complement one another. A solid group at a panel discussion should consist of a set of individuals who complement each other – as opposed to simply reinforcing each other. No one attends a panel discussion because they want to hear everyone making the same points over and over again, which the other panelists simply agree with before moving on to the next question. Choose panelists who bring different perspectives to the table and can contribute to a varied discussion in a productive manner. This practice ensures that everyone in the audience will get something from the discussion, regardless of their viewpoints on specific topics.

Select a moderator with care. Just because an individual has an extensive resume and background on a topic doesn’t mean that they will be effective at the moderator’s position. You want a moderator who knows how to advance the conversation without dominating it. Make sure that the moderator has time to meet the panel members and plan questions ahead of time so that they know something about the panel. This practice also helps guide the panelists in preparing their responses in advance. During the discussion, the moderator should keep the focus on the panelists while guiding the conversation naturally. The panelists are better able to stay on task and have an appropriate amount of time to share their viewpoints.

Encourage the panelists to tell stories. Storytelling is a key aspect of any presentation, so encourage panelists to get creative with the stories and examples they use to demonstrate their points. When the group is equipped with the questions ahead of time, they can prepare accordingly, which means crafting meaningful, succinct stories that bring a new angle to a given topic. Structuring a concept or case study as a story is a great way to inform the audience while also inspiring them. Panelists’ stories should be short and to the point. No single panelist should dominate the conversation.

Set up the room to boost the energy level. The typical panel discussion setup is to keep the panelists seated behind a table. But the table setup creates a barrier between the panel and the audience. Getting rid of the table and providing stools instead of chairs for the panelists is much more effective. With a group of stools and no table, panelists can choose to sit or stand, which will keep them engaged both physically and mentally.

The strongest panel discussions are lively affairs with lots of energy, focus, well delivered content, and an easy back and forth between the participants. The more preparation you put into a panel discussion, the more the audience will get out of it.

For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Chris Hardwick, Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Michael Cudlitz & Danai Gurira, CC BY-SA 2.0,




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