How To Host A Panel Session That Won’t Put Your Audience To Sleep

Your panel sessions have to be interesting or else...
Your panel sessions have to be interesting or else…
Image Credit: Phil Norton

The next time that you are asked to host a panel session, are you going to be ready? We all understand the importance of public speaking and as speakers what we need to do in order to both grab and then keep the attention of our audience. However, with a panel session, even if you have done everything that you can think of to get ready, the final result might still be something skips over the benefits of public speaking and ends up putting your audience to sleep. What can a speaker do?

Get The Stage Right

Before the panel gets started, your audience is going to make decisions about if they’ll be paying attention or sliding off to sleep. You want them to stay with you! Ditch the long table with panelist chairs behind it. Instead, arrange chairs with no table in a semicircle to make for a more inviting panel. Put a welcome sign on the door, post pictures about the panel topic on the wall, play music that will get everyone going and show a slideshow that will get everyone interested in the topic.

Engage Your Audience Before The Panel Session Starts

What you would really like to do is to be able to present a personalized panel session to your audience. One way that you can go about doing this is by getting in touch with your audience before the day of the panel. Using social media tools you can ask your audience what they would like the panel members to discuss. Have them comment on the panel topics. During the panel discussion, work in questions that you’ve received this way and if possible mention the name of the person who sent the question just to personalize things a bit more.

Have Your Panelists Get To Know Their Audience

Before a panel discussion starts all too often the panel members huddle on the stage and spend their time chatting with each other. As the panel moderator, don’t allow this to happen! Instead, get your panelists to go out and mingle with the audience. Have them ask questions about why people have come to hear this particular panel session and what they think about the topic. You can do the same. Make sure that you work anything that you learn into your moderation of the panel session.

Have A Strong Start To Your Panel

You want to grab the attention of everyone in your audience right off the bat. What this means is that you are going to want to show them a video, hit them with a relevant fact that they may not know, poll them, or lay a quotation on them. Once you’ve done this, take some time and review the agenda for the session. Keep things going by giving each member of your panel a chance to say something. Your goal at this stage should be to frame the discussion, not provide any answers.

Mix Up Your Format

You don’t want to give your audience a chance to fall asleep because they feel that they have “been here, seen this” when it comes to your panel. What this means is that you can shake things up for them. One way to keep things going is to walk out into your audience and then ask your panel questions and keep the conversation going. Another way to do things is for you to sit on the stage and have a conversation with the panel. As long as you vary things, it will remain interesting for your audience.

Find Out What Your Audience Is Thinking

One great way to keep your audience involved in the panel session is by asking them what they think. At the start of the panel session get things going by asking your audience a question and then have them respond by a show of hands. Audience involvement is a key way to deliver a great panel session. Polling your audience is how you can keep them involved in the panel and their answers will give you what you need in order to comment on what the panelists are saying.

What All Of This Means For You

Being asked to be the moderator of a panel session is a great complement. However, the skills that we’ve developed as a speaker will not always allow us to do a good job at this different type of task. We need to understand that the things that we do as a speaker in order to capture our audience’s attention are not the same things that a panel moderator can do to accomplish the same thing. What we need to learn are some new tricks.

One of the simplest things that we can do to ensure that we’ll be able to hold onto our audience’s attention is to make the stage more inviting by arranging it in a semicircle with no table before the speakers. Before the day of the event you can reach out via social media to your audience and collect questions from them and start a discussion about the topics that the panel will be covering. We can also encourage our panelists to spend time before the event starts interacting with the audience in order to drum up some interest in the actual panel session. You always want your panel sessions to start off strong so that you can grab and hold on to your audience’s attention from the start. You don’t always have to be on the stage, you can vary your format by wandering out into the audience and asking your questions from there. As the moderator your number one goal has to be to involve your audience in the panel and you can make this happen by taking the time to poll them during the event.

The worst thing that can happen in the world is for a panel session to be boring. That does a disservice to the audience and its a waste of the panelist time. As the moderator of a panel session it is your responsibility to make sure that the discussion is going to be interesting and hold on to everyone’s attention during the entire session. Take the time to do the things that we’ve talked about and the next panel session that you moderate will be the one that everyone’s talking about long after its over.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Before a panel session starts, do you think that its your responsibility to make sure that your panelist have come prepared?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So why do we give speeches? In all honesty, there are probably a bunch of different reasons. These reasons can range from trying to use the importance of public speaking to provide our audience with new information that they don’t have to trying to win them over to our way of thinking. No matter why we are giving a speech, our goal is always the same: we want to make sure that our audience hears what we are telling them and, most importantly, remembers it after our speech is over and done with. As speakers, all that we really have to work with are words. How can we use our words to make sure that what we tell our audience will stick in their minds?