In Our Opinion

Thoughts on planning a panel

By September 18, 2014 January 21st, 2019 No Comments
My job was to keep the conversation going – an easy task given the rock stars on our panel.

As moderator, my job was to organize the panel and keep the conversation going – an easy task given the rock stars on our panel.

On my way home from the 2014 ABA Marketing and Retail Banking Conference, I searched the phrase “why conference panels suck” and was reminded why the invitation to moderate two content marketing panels at the Conference made me so nervous.

Often panel presentations at conferences are terrible – pick your adjective, they can be boring, pointless, useless and/or painful. (I’m not going to say “suck” because I recently told my son the word was not acceptable for his homework, and I should probably follow my own rules).

As I’ve written before, presenting isn’t fair – as a speaker you are expected to be subject matter expert, graphic designer and entertainer. As a moderator or panelist you have the additional challenge of trying to predict what the other participants are going to say (while avoiding the “me too” answer).

So how can a moderator pull together a panel that is useful, entertaining and avoids awkward silences? Here are a few things we did while planning the Content Marketing Panel:

Know your goals – What points or lessons are you trying to express through your panel? Or to say it another way, what do you want attendees to learn?

Tell a story – By thinking of your presentation or panel as having a story arc – beginning, middle, end – you can ensure it flows smoothly and hits all the important plot points.

Show examples – I’ll admit it. I like PowerPoint. Or at least I like the idea of using presentation software behind panelists, when appropriate, to illustrate a point or provide an example.

Plan, but don’t practice – With participants from Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, practicing our panel wasn’t an option. Instead, we used a collaborative process where I learned more about each participant’s story and pulled together an outline that highlighted talking points for each. I then took time to speak with each panelists individually to refine their piece of the story.

Have questions ready – In addition to the talking points, I kept a list of 2 or 3 questions at the ready if we hit a pause or if I felt the panelist needed a little help.

Don’t be afraid to change direction – Mere hours after submitting our slides I had a revelation – they were in the wrong order! A quick reorganization ensured our story would flow much better, but it also meant the panelists had to catch up with my changes when we met in Florida.

During the panel, I acted as the voice of the audience, throwing a few new questions at the panelists – each took my unplanned inquiries in stride! Which brings me to my last tip. . .

Find strong voices – Unlike giving a solo presentation, moderating a panel requires bringing together a chorus of voices that can stand individually while also working in harmony. Another tip – try to find new voices, too often at conference we hear the same stories from the same people.

As a semi-regular speaker, there is no greater satisfaction than receiving positive feedback from attendees. Based on the response received, our Content Marketing panel was a success, for which I want to thank my panelists from Community Bank of the Chesapeake in Maryland; Fidelity Deposit and Discount Bank in Pennsylvania; North Shore Bank in Wisconsin and Pacific Continental Bank in Oregon.

(A big thank you also to the planning committee of the ABA Marketing and Retail Banking conference for the invitation to lead the panel).