Mindy McReynolds, a member of the metroConnections team since 2005, has expertise in events, production and speaker management. In her current role as director, production services, she is responsible for all stage production-related programs for metroConnections. With a degree from California State University, Northridge, she has more than 12 years of experience in the industry. McReynolds has held other positions at metroConnections including production coordinator, show manager and speaker manager. www.metroconnections.com
A panel presentation can provide a meaningful way to share a variety of ideas on a topic and showcase your organization as a thought leader while demonstrating your breadth of talent and unique group culture. Because they involve a great deal of collaboration, they are also highly educational. Once you’ve selected the participants, and they’ve agreed to participate, the planning has just begun. Although tricky, keys to a successful panel presentation include early planning, scheduled rehearsals and fully identifying sound requirements and stage presence.
As is the case with any type of presentation, success begins with a thorough planning process. It is important to first discern if a panel discussion is a fit for your event, and if so, when it should occur within your meeting, conference or event. Don’t fall into the trap of having a panel simply because you’ve always had one. Instead, evaluate if a panel format is the best way to present information to your audience on a particular topic or series of topics.
Panel discussions today are being used for both general and breakout sessions. They are a good way to get more speakers onstage within a given time allotment and enhance attendee engagement. Often they include a question and answer portion, which typically runs 45–60 minutes. Q&As with a moderator are popular because they are interactive and engaging, and ensure that the session covers ground that is of interest to the attendees.
Remember to answer these questions: How will the panel flow? Who is going to moderate the panel? What kind of mics are you going to use and where are they located? Should you have mic wranglers (people who deliver hand-held mics to the questioner)?
A good place to begin looking at specifics is with the panel’s overall timing and flow. It is best to schedule the discussion immediately after a break as this creates a window of time for changing the set onstage. In any case, you will need to consider the programmatic transition that will accommodate the panel. Key considerations include:
With the equipment and staging planned, it is vital to outline the logistics and responsibilities of key personnel to ensure the panel is fluid. Presentation delivery includes more than just communicating your main message. As part of your planning phase, ask the following questions:
Another key consideration is logistics or special needs for high-profile speakers. Also be sure to review any “speaker riders” in contracts. Speaker riders are a personalized list of requirements such as mic needs, stage equipment, food and beverages, and podium heights.
Even with the best of plans in place, it is vital to make time for a thorough rehearsal. After all, there’s nothing like a dry run to call out those little points that have been forgotten. Production planning experts identify rehearsals as one of the most important keys to a successful event.
As the discussion is about to launch, be sure that your speakers are reminded of a few tips for success. To begin, remind your panel speakers to be aware of their body language while onstage. They should, for example, be engaged with what is going on even when they are not presenting. It is important that they make eye contact with the cameras and the audience. Also, remind speakers to wear comfortable attire. Comfort onstage can be different than comfort at floor level. Onstage considerations involve such issues as cords and other tripping hazards that can snag shoe heels, as well as the viewing angle that audience members will have from the floor. Remind them to be cognizant of potential wardrobe issues, such as trying to position yourself on a high stool in a long skirt. Further, each speaker should have a dedicated back stage manager: one person to act as a single point of contact and have accountability for helping the presenter get what he or she needs and get where he or she needs to be.
Open lines of communication with your production team are the real underpinnings of a successful panel discussion. The technical and timing hurdles associated with a panel are not large, but they can be diverse. Therefore, advanced planning, along with a coordinated effort among team members, will create the best flow for your event. Panel discussions can be a powerful way to share knowledge and information. Your organization is in the spotlight during these events, therefore, it’s critical that you put your best foot forward while onstage. I&FMM