Comment & Opinion

Conference panels suck - Here’s how to fix them

Conference panels suck - Here’s how to fix them

Dan Laughlin is SVP and GM of HyprMX.

Conference panels can be irresistibly attractive on paper: the hot topic, the cadre of industry luminaries, the gregarious moderator! The brochures reads so well, but buyer beware, these sessions can disappoint.

Why does this happen? It’s actually quite simple. The traditional panel format is plodding and inefficient and in a world of short attention spans, that’s a nonstarter. Let’s compare the promise of a panel to its reality:

Promise

  • Snappy questions, hard facts, best practices, insights and opinions
  • Each question yields multiple answers and perspectives
  • The moderator contrasts responses and draws out insights
  • Attendees leave with insights, useful statistics and practical takeaways

Reality

  • Long-winded, meandering panelists
  • Moderators allow self-serving, off-topic monologues
  • Attendees duck out or use the time responding to emails

What’s the disconnect? It’s not the topics, which are often interesting. It’s not the questions, which are usually well thought out. It’s not the panelists, who are hand picked for their expertise. It’s really the format. Verbal-only, asynchronous, open-ended answers lead to programmatic disarray.

I’ve led some of these bad panels, and I have witnessed countless more. So I created a simple solution. It’s called “Speed Panel”. Implementing it only requires a bit of forethought and a free SurveyMonkey account.

Dan Laughlin hosting a panel at Pocket Gamer Connects Vancouver 2016

The secrets to a more efficient and effective panel are highlighted in a handful of key points.

1. Generate compelling questions that uncover insights, opinions, and best practices. Then, send the questions to the panelists via an online survey. Finally, build slides to showcase the results that will stimulate lively discussion.

2. At the panel, reveal each result individually on-screen and let the data guide the conversation. Panelists can jump in and provide context. The compare-and-contrast conversation that ensues draws out facts and insights in seconds. And panelists become fully engaged, even asking each other questions.

3. Do not attribute a given poll response to a panelist. Instead, let the conversation emerge organically. Most panelists will want to share their answers because of the casual, and open-ended format. This typically leads panelist to share additional insight, stats and opinions.

4. Q&A can easily be the most impactful part of a panel, but it can also be inefficient and a bore. Luckily with the Speed Panel format, the audience is part of the conversation from start to finish. Don’t save 10 to 15 minutes for forced questions; instead, let people react to what they see and ask questions in the moment.

5. The worst way to begin your panel is to have panelists introduce themselves. Panel pacing is critical and personal introductions is an easy way to burn time and lose the audience. Instead, include panelists’ headshots and titles on an intro slide and mention a fun fact about them.

The Speed Panel method is proven. I’ve used the approach at Casual Connect and Pocket Gamer Connects events to rave reviews.

Consider adopting the format for your next moderation gig and you’ll become a more valuable industry speaker. Implementing these best practices will certainly leave your audience wanting more!

Dan Laughlin will be hosting a Monetization Masterminds SpeedPanel at Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco 2017 on June 27th. Panelists include: Linekong's Shannon Chang, Pocket Gems' Sam Peck and Glu Mobile's Brian Kealer. For more details on the event and to register, visit the PGC website.


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