7 techniques for guiding a scintillating panel discussion

As a moderator, you can follow a staid format and have all your panelists nodding in agreement—and your audience nodding off. These approaches will help juice things up.

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At most conferences, the panel discussions are terribly boring.

Some panels are so dreadful that many attendees use the time to network in the hallways or check email. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are seven ways to make the next panel you moderate the highlight of the event:

1. Stoke controversy. 

The most powerful parts of a conference are when panelists get into a debate onstage. It makes for great interaction, and it lights up social media feeds. Such memorable moments keep people buzzing during the cocktail reception.

Think of it like a movie: The crucial element is conflict—whether for drama or comedy.

“Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They get married.”

“Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They fight. They break up. They fight some more. They find a way to get back together. They get married.”

The first example is like most panels, with everyone agreeing—and the audience yawning. The second is an emotional rollercoaster, and people stay attentive so they don’t miss the next twist.

Prior to the event, encourage panelists to speak up if they disagree with another panelist. As a moderator, you can also find ways to disagree (politely) with a panelist once in a while.

2. Be brief, and encourage panelists to do the same.

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