Five Great Ways to Create a Terrible Panel Discussion

Like the sound of yawns?  Of people fidgeting in seats and checking email during your event? Of audience members complaining about your panel afterward? Then follow these steps — any one of them can do the trick:

1. Don’t Have a Discussion At All — So what if it says “Discussion” in the title?  Most things that call themselves panel discussions have little or no interaction among panelists, so why should yours be any different?   Have each panelist give a presentation in isolation, followed by each answering a few questions from the moderator.  Make sure you don’t provide opportunities for panelists to ask each other questions, attempt to convince each other on particular issues, or work through a problem together.  An actual conversation might break out.

2. Frustrate Your Panelists — Once you’ve decided to use serial presentations rather than conversation, ask each panelist to address a broad issue, rather than a sharply focused question, in their presentation — then don’t give them enough time to do it.   Reduce the alloted time even more during the event because things are running behind schedule.  Then cut each panelist off abruptly when their time runs out.

Bonus points for asking follow-up questions that show a lack of understanding of, or research on, the panelist’s work.

3. Frustrate Your Audience — Pay no attention to (or never bother to find out) what your audience hopes to learn from the event.  Present obvious introductory material to an insider audience, or present narrow jargon-filled material to an outsider audience.  Don’t be crystal clear in your goals while producing or promoting the event — try to present “something for everyone”  instead.

4. Avoid Controversy — Don’t seek out panelists with opposing views.  Don’t push them with hard questions.  Don’t say out loud what everyone is thinking but afraid to raise.

5. Make the Moderator the Star of the Show — Isolate the moderator from the panelists in a way that prevents intimacy.  Encourage him or her to ask long questions designed primarily to show off the moderator’s knowledge of and opinions on the issues.   Don’t make the moderator listen carefully to each panelist and respond accordingly — just go to the next prepared question instead.

Don’t forget to start off your panel by a lengthy  reading of each panelist’s bio, and end it with an unstructured Q&A session that a couple audience members use to make speeches.  Now you’ve got it all.


Despite the glib tone, these pitfalls represent threats to even the most carefully-produced event, and take constant vigilance to avoid.  We hope the suggestions on AFGQ can help.

Have your own panel discussion horror story? Share it in the comments.

2 responses to “Five Great Ways to Create a Terrible Panel Discussion

  1. Pingback: The Ten Commandments of Moderating a Panel, Parts 1 – 2: The Basic Basics | A Few Good Questions

  2. Pingback: The Ten Commandments of Moderating, Part 4: Conversations | A Few Good Questions

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