Have you been to a conference and attended a panel discussion where you were thinking, “Can these people be any more full of themselves?” I’ve been to a lot of conferences and have spoken at enough of them to know that I hate panels at conferences. I almost want to ask for my money back. After a lot of observation, I’ve determined that the people who are on the panels probably applied to be a solo speaker but due to a number of reasons (too many good applications, too many proposed topics, not one great speaker on a topic, etc.) the conference organizer(s) decides “let’s have a panel on that.”
My three issues with conference panels are this:
- If the moderator sucks, it can go way off topic and get monopolized by either one speaker or worse, an audience member’s question
- There’s always someone on the panel who feels like they “know it all” and are pissed they have to be on a panel in the first place so they talk — A LOT and are inconsiderate of the other speaker’s time
- They’re very Web 2.0 in terms of being interactive and tend to be very one sided where the panel is talking at the audience rather than engaging the audience
As a speaker…
As a speaker, it’s hard to control the first one, as you have no control over whether or not the moderator sucks or not. You also have no control over the second bullet point either unless you want to interrupt them or cut them off and swap penis swords the whole time. But as a speaker you can make it more interactive by asking a question and getting a show of hands or if you’re lucky enough to have a PowerPoint slide presentation you can do a live interactive poll (Poll Everywhere). You can also do some sort of icebreaker that has people stand up or walk around.
As an attendee…
As an attendee you should give your feedback to the conference organizers via the survey that comes to you afterward. Even if you don’t get a survey (which is pretty standard these days), you should seek out a way to give them feedback. Tweet them, send them an email, or post a comment to their event page. Because if you don’t then you’re saying that you’re okay with the way this conference was run — all of it, including the shitty panel. As an attendee, whether the conference was free or you paid, you have every right to voice your opinion and give constructive feedback about what you liked and didn’t like or make recommendations of how it could be better for next time. Believe me, conference organizers would be grateful to get such feedback.
Also, if the panel asks for questions from the audience, don’t be afraid to ask your question, but be courteous enough to not ask a follow-up to your question if other people are waiting. And if you think that your question requires a long answer, then consider asking it off-line during a break to one of the speakers.
As a moderator…
I really like this blog post from Jeremiah Owyang in which he discusses how to successfully moderate a panel or ways you can not suck as a moderator. And I especially like the section on preparation as a moderator. Because as a moderator you may not be able to choose the panelists, but getting to know the panelists and what they have to offer will go a long way.
I’m speaking at BlogHer in July on a panel. It’s my first time attending BlogHer. I’ve attended and spoken at other conferences, although this is my first time on a panel. I initially applied to be a solo speaker because I have a platform in which I talk about “What do you want to be famous for?” and it goes into how to develop yourself as the go-to person in that niche. However, my topic seemed to be uber popular among proposed topics. The panel I’m on is “Beyond the Vertical into the Niche” and I’m actually excited to speak on it because the people I’m speaking with seem to understand that panels normally suck and are out to break the mold on making this panel exciting and beneficial for attendees. They also understand that we will all have something unique to offer and will give one another their appropriate time to make it valuable to the attendees. And we’ve already come up with an icebreaker and a plan on divulging our one or two pieces of sage advice that people can take with them after leaving the session. There will be two sessions offered for this panel — because that’s how high the attendance will be. But most importantly, there’s a 20% discount I can offer if you haven’t registered yet, if you apply through this link, and use this code: BH13SPKR.
Do you enjoy panels when you go to conferences? Do you think that they can be better? Let me know in the comments.