The Foundations Of A Successful Panel Discussion: Our Five Golden Rules

by | Feb 21, 2024 | Communication Skills

Our clients often ask about the best practices for preparing as a panellist for a panel discussion. Yet, achieving success during such events requires extensive preparation from all involved parties, not just the panellists. In this article, we take a closer look at how to enhance the overall event experience by delving into the organisational aspects of panel discussions.


The panel power


Choosing between stand-alone speeches and moderated panel discussions can significantly influence the dynamic of your event. Opting for moderated panel discussions promises a more engaging and memorable exchange of arguments, as well as a lively portrayal of the topic at hand. However, these events must be meticulously orchestrated for genuine interaction and spontaneity. This entails establishing a framework that promotes dialogue, questions, and active participation from speakers—usually experts in their respective fields—and the audience.

By adhering to the guidelines outlined below, you’re on the path to organising an impactful event that resonates with participants and leaves a lasting impression.


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1. It’s all in the details


This may seem trivial, but focusing on the minutiae can prevent memorable catastrophes. It may come across as blatantly obvious, but before the event, be sure to devote some time to the minor, yet crucial, details. We are talking about checking battery levels for microphones, double-checking the functionality of audio-visual equipment, and confirming that backup systems are ready and accessible.

These small steps, while seemingly insignificant, play a role in preventing major disruptions and warranting smooth execution. Verify the technical setup thoroughly and have a technician ready for any issues. Ensure the panellists have comfortable seats that allow them to sit upright. Posture is key in public engagements, and it’s hard to be enthusiastic when slouching or uncomfortably perched.


2. Readiness is everything


At NxtGEN Executive Presence, we emphasise preparation as your top priority. Planning is essential not only for the organiser and moderator but also for the panellist. They must be ready to share their insights on their areas of expertise effectively.

We have observed that many authority figures fall into the trap of thinking being on a panel is more straightforward than delivering a keynote, leading them to under-prepare. However, making superficial comments is among the top ten common mistakes made by panellists. The audience seeks individual experience and actionable takeaways rather than unsubstantial remarks.

We recommend organising an online meeting between the moderator and panellists to discuss questions and understand the group’s conversational dynamic ahead of the event. This will also allow for establishing rules of engagement, ensuring that panellists respect the timing and each other. The foundation of a meaningful discussion is laid by preparing thoroughly. Establishing rapport within the group early on is crucial for a successful on-stage performance. Allowing them to get to know each other, even briefly online, facilitates establishing this connection.


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3. The role of the moderator


A poorly chosen moderator is a leading cause of panel discussion disasters. A neutral third-party communication expert can maintain the discussion’s flow within time limits, facilitating a balanced and engaging conversation. Additionally, outsiders are safer positioned to ask candid or sensitive questions without bias. Remember, the moderator’s primary role is to facilitate a meaningful dialogue that represents the audience’s queries and interests, not to take the spotlight. As Kristin Arnold, a leading authority on moderating panel discussions, advises, a good moderator should “make it a conversation that everyone can feel good about”.

To grasp the concept, observe the royalty of journalism and talk shows: Oprah Winfrey and Graham Norton. Although they are stars in their own right, they consistently take a step back, allowing their guest to take centre stage. While hiring a celebrity of such calibre may not be feasible, seek someone whose personality style will enable others to shine through.


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Ignoring the audience is an offence. To maximise engagement, greet your viewers full-heartedly and with a genuine smile. Connecting with your audience is the primary objective because during the panel we speak for the audience. “Start with an engaging introduction, such as a quote or challenging question, to capture everybody’s attention”, writes Cynthia Oelkers of Conclaro. Explain your role and expertise in clear terms to establish credibility. Your opening introduction must be relevant and relatable to allow for that warm rapport with the audience.


4. Realistic timing


The average English-speaking rate is between 125 and 150 words per minute, and scripting helps panellists stay within their allocated time. The goal is to prevent the panel from turning into a series of lengthy speeches that are difficult to endure and drain energy from the audience. A time-keeping process, ideally a countdown LED screen, should be visible to panellists to manage their contributions effectively.

Another concept to keep in mind is KISS. Contrary to what you might initially think, we are not suggesting kissing anyone on stage! This striking acronym stands for Keep It Short and Simple. Moderators should avoid lengthy introductions, focusing instead on concise questions. This approach ensures the discussion remains engaging and focused.


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5. The three Cs


Our last recommendation will apply to all parties involved in the panel, including the organisers, the moderator, and the panellists alike. Following the mighty Rule of Three, one of the most prominent tools in our communications skills arsenal, we would like you to keep the Three Cs in mind:




As Matt Abrahams, the Stanford Business author, educator, and host of the renowned Think Faster, Talks Smarter podcast suggests, top panel speakers excel at distilling their material, making it more accessible and relevant to the audience’s knowledge and experiences. Audiences at panel discussions are most engaged by content that directly addresses their questions and provides the insights and tools they seek.

For instance, addressing your audience’s public speaking anxieties by sharing relatable stories, such as Amy Cuddy’s fear of presenting, can be more motivating and impactful.




Tell a story. When preparing for a panel, outline your crucial points and insights, then enrich each with a tangible example to make them more compelling. These narratives can be drawn from personal experience or be hypothetical. The key is to ensure your messages are as concrete as possible, enhancing their motivational power for the audience.


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Panel presentations thrive on engagement and knowledge sharing. You will ensure a valuable experience by following these guidelines. For those seeking to boost their confidence and effectiveness as panellists or moderators, we recommend looking into our Command the Room programme.

Contact us now to elevate your executive presence and make every panel you run memorable.

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