Month: September 2016

Putting Together a Panel Session

Putting together a panel session

Panel sessions are a popular format because they are interactive by nature. But you need to clarify what kind of interaction you want to create. Do you want to inform an audience with short-format presentations to contrast perspectives? Or do you want to create a formal dialogue among a select group of individuals? Or perhaps you want to offer an the audience access to a group of experts for questions and discussion? Once you know the outcome to be achieved, you can source the right panelists and provide the right guidance.

When approaching people to sit on your panel, give them a complete picture of the message the session should deliver, and let them know what perspective or part of that message they should portray. Tell them who is confirmed or will be approached to sit on the panel. They may be uncomfortable sharing a stage with certain individuals, they may have ideas on other potential panelists, and they will better understand how the message will come together. You will also need to articulate how the session will be structured and how the message will be delivered.

If you are looking to inform the audience, maximize time for presentations and minimize (or eliminate) time for questions. Ask panelists to prepare a short formal presentation. Slides or other visuals may be expected. The role of the moderator is closer to that of an emcee – they will make introductions and provide segue between speakers. If you choose to open the floor to audience questions, the moderator will need to time this carefully so the program stays on track.

If you are creating a formal dialogue, presentations are likely inappropriate. You may choose to give each panelist an opportunity for opening remarks but this is not always the case. Work with the moderator to craft questions that draw out the message you want and share the list of questions with panelists so they can prepare. The role of the moderator is to facilitate a conversation, not just ask a series of questions. The moderator may also manage questions from the audience but sometime this format is a closed conversation.

If your goal is to offer a forum for audience discussion then presentations should be minimized or eliminated. It is appropriate to give each panelist an opportunity for opening statements or to formally present their standpoint but emphasize keeping this short so there is lots of time for audience interaction. It may be a good idea for the moderator to give time prompts to keep speakers on track. The moderator’s role is to facilitate discussion between the audience and the panel. There should be a list of prepared questions that the moderator can use to start the discussion (the audience may be timid at first) or fill gaps between audience questions. Good questions will stimulate thought and elicit follow-up questions.

Regardless of format, here’s a few thing to keep in mind when sourcing panelists:

  • Look for variety on your panel. Panelists should be credible subject matter experts who represent different areas of an industry, utilize different approaches to achieve results, or represent different players in a process.
  • Invite panelists who are engaging. Panelists should be comfortable in front of an audience, have good presentation skills, and be able to think on their feet as questions come up and the direction of conversation shifts.
  • Get a moderator who can go with the flow. It is helpful for a moderator to have an understanding of the subject matter but not a requirement. Equally important is someone who is a good facilitator, can shape the conversation and will keep things on time.
  • Give the panel a chance to connect in advance. Hold a conference call or informal meeting prior to the event so panelists and the moderator can discuss how their perspectives will mesh to create the desired message.


Panel sessions are a great option for events. By nature they are interactive, encourage consideration of differing perspectives, and stimulate discussion. But a few people with microphones at the front of the room does not an engaging panel make. Take the time to think about the experience you want the audience to have and the message you want the audience to receive. Then get your panelists on board with those goals.


6 Tips for Working with Event Committees

Tips for working with event committees (1)

Many associations and non-profits rely on volunteers to help plan conferences and events. But did you know that event planning has been ranked as one of the most stressful jobs? Continue reading “6 Tips for Working with Event Committees”

Nametags for Networking

4 Tips for Better Nametag Design (1)

The final days and weeks before an event can be a busy time and nametag design may not be at the top of your priority list. But it should be given due consideration because nametags play a key role in connecting people at events. So before you start printing for your next event, consider these tips.

1. Minimize graphics. I’m not suggesting you give everyone a plain white nametag but keep logos small and use other branding elements for event identification. Attendees already know what event they are at. What they don’t know is the name of the person across the table, so use graphics to draw people’s eye to that information instead of letting them distract from it.

2. Accentuate the first name. Squeezing a full name onto a single line may not make Jane Smith illegible but it will sure make Christopher Williams-Johnson challenging to read. Catching someone’s last name won’t matter if no introduction is made. Everything else on the nametag is a conversation piece that likely won’t matter if a business card or other meaningful exchange never takes place. It’s the first name that people will use when identifying someone across the room or introducing themselves so break the first name out and accentuate in size or font.

3. Use a simple font and make it a large size. People shouldn’t have to squint or pull out reading glasses to read a nametag. It should be visually appealing but easy to read from a distance. Choose a simple font with clean lines. A non-serif font is better for legibility. Use the largest font size possible but don’t overwhelm the nametag (maintain enough whitespace so it doesn’t look crowded). If in doubt, print a trial nametag and affix it to a corkboard. Then walk 5-10 paces and see how hard it is to read the first name.

4. Keep information up front. After designing the perfect nametag, it would be a shame if no one ever read them. But it happens. Nametags on lanyards get flipped around as people move and eventually everyone is nameless. This is detrimental to event branding, security, and networking. Use double-sided nametags so it won’t matter if they flip over, or use lanyards that clip onto the top 2 corners of the plastic sleeve.

Bonus Tip: Another pet peeve is nametags on long lanyards. No one likes looking at another person’s navel to learn who they are. And once people sit down at a table, nametags are no longer visible. Nametags should sit at a height where you can read them without really breaking eye contact. So consider length when selecting a lanyard, or better yet consider one that cinches in the back once people put it on.

In conclusion, nametags serve as identification at an event and are a key part of networking. Make sure they are legible or they won’t do anyone any good.

Do you have observations or pet peeves when it comes to event nametags? Tell us about it in the comments.