Great Panel Discussions: How To Open Your Panel

This is the fourth post of a six-part series that will teach you how to plan and deliver outstanding panel presentations. Click here to see all six parts.

Many panels run for 50 minutes at conferences. Below, you’ll find a typical format, which contains a major flaw. Can you spot it?

  • Moderator sets up topic and introduces panelists (5 minutes)
  • Each panelist delivers an opening statement (3 panelists x 5 minutes each = 15 minutes)
  • Panelists answer moderator’s questions (15 minutes)
  • Audience Q&A (15 minutes)

How To Run A Great Panel Discussion Part 4

Here’s the problem: By the time the questions finally begin, the panel is already nearing its halfway point—and any energy that was present at the beginning of the session has likely fizzled away.

There’s an easy fix. Shrink the setup and introductions to just a few minutes and eliminate opening statements from each panelist altogether—the audience is there to hear a lively conversation, not three mini-presentations.

Your goal is to set the panel up just enough to establish context for the conversation that follows. You can begin with an open that sets up the topic, its relevance, and key trends; cites a key problem that your panel will help solve; and/or identifies your panel’s goals. Most of the openers you could use for a non-panel presentation would work perfectly here, too.

Then, move on to a mini-introduction of each person. You can read the short bio each panelist provided you in advance—but feel free to add relevant (but brief) detail. And don’t forget to introduce yourself, too!

Moderators typically sit with the panel for the open and introductions. For longer openings, a nice alternative is to start the session and introduce the panel from a standing position toward the front of the stage (while the panelists are seated), then ask the audience to welcome the panel and walk to your seat while they applaud.

Whichever option you choose, you’re just a few minutes into the session at this point, and have already set the foundation sufficiently. You’ve also managed to shave at least 15 minutes off the first two parts of the sample agenda above.

In the next post, you’ll find nine in-depth tips to help you nail the interview.

See all six parts in this series, in which you’ll learn how to plan a panel, set up the room, ask riveting questions, engage with the audience in unexpected ways, and much more!