You want sizzle, not snooze, at panel discussions

Penny Haslam Panel Discussions - The Ultimate Guide - By Penny Haslam

I get booked to host and moderate a lot of events every year so I get to see at first hand the hard work and forethought that organisers put into making their events really sing. Generally, the right bass notes are:

  • Choosing a relevant topic, so people will want to attend.
  • Finding panellists who will energise that topic.
  • Encouraging them to share their unique perspectives and opinions with the audience.

And it’s worth putting this effort in, because panel discussions are a good focal point for events that help you connect with customers, colleagues and peers, in a lively and interesting way.

But that’s the key bit – lively and interesting – but the opposite is quite often the case. You know the sort of event I’m talking about:

  • Panellist A goes on and on.
  • Panellist B barely speaks and panellist C is so nervous they flicker about rather than lighting up the room.
  • Q&A falls a bit flat and everyone shuffles off to do the networking bit.
What’s the secret to a great panel discussion?

I’m proud to report that I have never had a dud on my watch, so what’s the secret formula? How do you put on a panel that sparkles so you don’t waste your precious time and money on something soporific?

I reckon there are some basics to consider that will help avoid the snooze and get the sizzle into your event…and they are RAPPORT, ENERGY & (think about your) AUDIENCE.

Watch my video for my recipe for sizzle, and what I think of the ubiquitous tub chair.

Chairing a panel is one of my favourite types of work as a professional speaker because I consider it a privilege to ask business people interesting questions, and a pleasure to host my very own BBC Radio 4 style ’round table’ discussion in front of a live audience. I use my business journalism and direct the themes so the audience gets what they came for. And we have a bit of a laugh too, why not.

So perhaps make panel discussions one of your favourite things too – either as an event organiser, an audience participant or as a panellist yourself. And just say NO to boring ones that cost you resources. Make them memorable, interesting and dare I say, make them fun for everyone involved, whether or not there’s a tub chair about.


Panel Discussions is the ultimate guide to moderating and appearing on panel discussions. 

  • Prepare for success and drive a dynamic panel discussion, as a moderator.
  • Confidently share your expertise and insight as a relatable and memorable panellist.
  • Engage your audience and speak so people listen, both from the stage and through the camera lens.

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