Audience Pacification: What hosts should never do.
If you’re seeking a well-executed, but tedious discussion panel – then skip this section.
A capable host takes care of not only the subject matter, but the panel’s conveyance of information.
First, let’s explore the fundamentals: why are you organising a discussion panel? If your reason is due to their presence in other conferences, then I urge you to re-examine your requirement. A panel itself will not raise the profile of a conference. Worse still, inviting the wrong people could detriment the value of your existing event. The most common error is hiring a moderator whose objective is to persuade the audience of their expertise, though without conference hosting experience of their own.
A panel should generate value for conference attendees. It must bring knowledge but take a further step forward. Anita Kijanka, operating daily within the sphere of new technologies, describes this in-detail in her article. Her viewpoint is it should mimic a discussion over coffee. “Sometimes they’ll present you with data - but will always draw a conclusion. They will explain what went well, and what didn’t.” - explains Anita.
It’s no accident that event participants take phone calls or cigarette breaks during debates. This time, your conference should do things differently.
The Unhealthy Debate:
Avoid These Discussion Panel Bad Practices
Role mix-ups spring to mind. Moderators are not the star of the group. They should do everything in their power to ensure panels engage in captivating discussion, examine the topic from multiple perspectives, and to put it bluntly – satisfy the demands of the audience.
Therefore, the host should effectively announce panellists using 2-3 sentence introductions for each. They would then proceed with their relevant discussion. Conversations should take precedence over introductory remarks. After all, nothing subdues an audience more than a blank canvas for guests to tarnish with a several-minute speech.
The moderator facilitates trails of thought and ensures the meeting of key discussion points are not neglected. One thing to remember is this: it is not their job to comment on individual statements.
A captivating and stimulating debate should resemble a televised talk show, as opposed to an academic sit-down. “As always, it’s those who seem to lack the faintest idea of what is going on – that are given the role of mediator.” – writes Michał Kobosko, for Press. “They assume that inherent knowledge on other subjects is a natural transition to moderating a public debate. Nothing could be further from the truth. A compelling host must still be media-savvy, ensure equal speaking time, set the course of the discussion, and speak curtly but nonetheless on-point. Extensive experience is therefore essential, as is composure, and the ability to ensure equal speaking time for all panellists.
It’s vital to fit the panel within the timeframe of the conference itself. In moderating several conferences, I have noticed that discussions can serve as a breath of fresh air for such events. Guests attending one of several lectures will view this is among the more riveting attractions. It is however advised not to hold this component late in the day, due to a risk of guest fatigue.
They often take place later in the day and feature lively discussion. But it can’t happen too late – when everyone is exhausted. The panel itself should not last more than one hour.
Because no matter the interest of the subject – people simply wield too short an attention span.
If by inviting 8 experts for a 45-minute discussion – will we ensure them ample time? That’s doubtful. Simply introducing your entire line up would take at least 5 minutes, with technical issues a likely challenge. Ensure a real interaction, by inviting 3-4 guests. There, each of them will be able to speak on multiple occasions. And, if the host pays particular attention, panellists will already be on a first-name basis – a welcome boost to communication. By inviting 3-4 guests to a debate lasting no-longer than 60 minutes, we mitigate the risk of drawing out this segment of the conference. Attendees value punctuality more than one might think.
Without a shadow of doubt. Allowing this sends a clear signal to the audience – that they count. Most significantly, it invites you, the spectator to make the most of their experience.
It is here that the most important function of a moderator emerges into plain sight. That is, to ensure the ‘balance of power’ between speakers. Because once the microphone is handed to an orator, you will need to demonstrate elegance, in preventing any extensive monologues. The mediator must also take care to ensure proportionate interaction between expert statements, and the audience.
Firstly, in terms of content. When I am commissioned to conduct a debate, I familiarise with all materials provided by the organiser. But I will be certain to carry out additional online research, in any language necessary, across websites, and newspaper archives. Each panellist will be assessed individually, as well. What are their opinions on certain matters? Where do they publish? What kinds of experience do they have?
Secondly, I contact the panellists, informing them of the kinds of questions to expect during the panel discussion. This way, they can prepare, and thereby feel at-ease. I don’t however share the script with them – simply because it doesn’t exist. After all, debates are meant to be about compelling, and off-the-cuff content. The audience will demask any attempt at planned theatrics – especially pre-written arguments.
On the day of the event, I collect all panellists and introduce one another. This is the basis for a great atmosphere. I never forget that such a panel is also a public performance, which can be daunting to those participating. For that, they can rest assured of my complete support onstage.
My recipe for a truly lively debate.
I strive for you and your experts to appear and experience the centre stage. My task is to draw attention to the show, but never to steal it. The debate will be spirited and genuine. Questions will be concise, yet captivating.
My preparation will be thorough, such that it shall explore the most riveting subject details – and to help experts articulate themselves credibly. United, we will prove that debates are far from monotonous.
What is essential to a discussion panel? Clients themselves tell it best:
Onstage? What Maciej is like onstage is what everyone sees. But behind the scenes – he’s even better. I appreciate that he builds relationships with event speakers, knows how to prepare them for their appearances, diminishes stress, and even spontaneously takes them out to lunch! He awards people with distinctive and undivided attention, making him immensely engaged. To me, Maciej is also a dependable event partner and problem solver, suggesting outstanding concepts, but also mapping out potential obstacles. He sees beyond the standard details. Oh, and I still envy him for his interview with Jan Kulczyk
From a test message: “Good Morning, Mr. Maciej, I'm sorry for contacting you today and in this form. At the end of the conference, I hadn’t had a chance to say thank you for your very professional approach to the subject of unemployment. Your event leadership was met with great acclaim by all participants and was decisive in its success. I wish you all the best for the future.”
Hi, Maciej! I just wanted to thank you for speaking today at the Poznan Days of Entrepreneurship. As a speaker myself, I can say that you're doing a fantastic job adding immeasurable value to the party. Besides, I think you provide the definition of how a professional should look. I can tell you without a doubt that it was the best leading since my participation in the Entrepreneurship Days - and I've been in attendance as of 2014. Thanks again!
I also recommend Maciej Kautz – immaculate handling of this year’s ILC conference
Maciek was the host of our "Skoda Future" marketing & consumer service conference! He did a great job by facilitating Q&A sessions and adding his professional input during our two-day event. He was well prepared and fully dedicated to make sure the conference was a success!!! and it was!
Dealer Network Director VW Brand
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