Is Anyone on a Panel Discussion a Bad Guy?

It’s painfully easy to wind up with a bad panelist on your discussion – someone long-winded, confusing, unresponsive, etc. – but extremely difficult to find someone willing to be a bad person. No matter how cynical and self-interested each of us can be in real life, in front of an audience almost everyone becomes a model of generosity, a true believer in the corporation’s mission statement, and/or a model of political correctness.

The problem is, it can sometimes be difficult to address the real challenges facing your audience if all you have is a panel full of saints.

How do you get panelists to admit to less-than-saintly behavior?   Here’s what I recommend:

  • Do not make it a head-on confrontation – Unless you’ve come prepared with a video of the person doing exactly what you’re claiming they do, a direct confrontation will usually go nowhere.
  • Ask panelists to describe what other people are thinking or doing – Let’s say you want to confront employees’ cynicism about a new strategic plan.  But none of your panelists are willing to admit to anything less than complete faith in it.  Try telling them they have a (hypothetical) colleague, Jim, who doesn’t believe the plan will change anything.  Ask them to describe what Jim is thinking, and what experiences may have led Jim to feel the way he does.
  • Get an Ex – Someone who has retired may be a lot more open about how things operated at his old place of work.
  • Find a values-based defense of bad behavior – Finding a corporate representative who will endorse the use of child labor in a particular industry: Almost impossible.  Finding an economics professor who will explain that poor children shouldn’t be prevented from working in an industry until we know what their alternatives are: Possible.
  • Always pre-interview – If someone’s been recommended as willing to play the bad boy (or girl), confirm it beforehand.  Commend their honesty and let them know the important role they’ll have in the discussion.

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