The problem with the panel

Let me thank the panelists from last week’s Women and Marketing event at TECHColumbus :Joan Manter,Nancy Bohman,Amy Marshall and Padma Sastry.  I won’t repeat the content of the panel discussion since Nancy has a wonderful recap on her blog.



But what I do want to explore for a moment is the notion of the panel as a presentation format.

Yes, it may seem hypocritical that I’m in the photo above moderating last week’s panel and now want to question its veracity.

The reality is when I accepted the invitation, I insisted that we all gather to map out a ‘panel plan.’  And indeed, I made good on my promise and helped them wrestled a narrow topic presented in the form of five thought-provoking questions that each of us would answer.  While unstated to the group, my goals in facilitating this plan were:

a.  Do not have any replicating content, i.e., we each need to say something worthwhile and different;

b.  Find a quality example (story, anecdote) to illuminate the ‘answers to the questions,’ i.e., give what we say a fighting chance to be remembered;

c.  End on time, i.e. if we are remembered for anything, don’t make people blame us for being late to work.

So, interestingly enough, I believe the general goals from TECHColumbus in having the panel were to:

a. explore a topic that would attract an interesting group of women

b. showcase some industry experts on their turf

c. facilitate networking

All really noble goals.

But there in lies the problem with the panel, in general.  It is not designed with the very broad audience in mind. At least the audience as a person listening to content. Trying to decide what is important. Who is credible. What they should take back to their desks and repeat to their colleagues.  In between three cups of morning coffee.  Rather, it is designed with the audience as a person who wants to network and be seen.

I visited Wikipedia a while ago on a whim looking for insight.  My hypotheses was correct (for once).  The “panel” was created as a listening tool, not a talking one. As in panel of judges, listening to a case.

You can see from Wikipedia’s list of purposes that a panel serves, none of them center on inviting a group of people who don’t know each other to sit together and talk to others who are there to listen.  It is usually the other way around.

I asked someone at our local discussion forum which I admire greatly, Columbus Metropolitan Club, once, why do you have panels?  And his candid response was: it helps to drive a crowd.  If there are experts on the panel with whom people can affiliate, then there will be attendance.  Fair enough.

But I’ll say it out loud.  As an presentation format, I’m not a big fan of the panel. Tough for panelists to get connected, coordinated and in a good flow; tough for the audience to follow, comprehend and be impacted.

As a tool for resonating an idea, creating buzz, telling a true story, transferring knowledge or even evoking one emotion, don’t look to the panel.

As a tool to market your organization, gain some awareness, or as a vehicle for networking, sign it up