I am continuously amazed at how we, as event professionals, keep trying to do the same things (that repeatedly don’t work) over and over, expecting a different result?!? Some people would (and do) call that insanity!
I am as guilty of this mistake as the next person, as I have made my share of ‘repeat errors.’ This past week I was witness of, and party to one such blunder, at the PCMA Education Conference. For context I was the Conference Co-Chair (along with Bob Hancock) So, I accept ownership of the programming decision, which led to the less than positive experience I am about to share with you.
First some great news … Based upon the feedback received the conference was very successful overall. The one thorn in an otherwise very rosy experience was Tuesday afternoon’s General Session, an Industry Panel Discussion. All I can say is “What were we thinking?”
Up until this event occurred the conference energy level and enthusiasm had been very high. That all changed in a matter of minutes, as this session put nearly the entire audience (myself included) to sleep. The experience was especially painful for our remote/virtual attendees.
So why was it a mistake to do a panel discussion? What went wrong? What could have been done differently? Let’s take an objective look at these questions.
The “Pain Points”
Scheduling — we scheduled this panel discussion as the last session for Day Three of the conference. Everyone was tired, from two nights of late night wining and dining, and two intense days of program content. That morning we featured a fantastic speaker, Scott Koslosky, who was both engaging and entertaining. We may have been better served to flip flop (reverse) the scheduling of these two general sessions.
Poor Topic Choice — Our topic for the panel was “The New Normal of Business.” Several months ago this was a hot topic, but it has been addressed repeatedly, at numerous conferences this year, and now has become an overused cliche. We received many comments from attendees expressing their disdain with this topic.
Why Most Panel Discussions Fail
Talking Heads — Seemingly, most panel discussions fall short of their intended impact for one simple fact … they don’t engage audiences. Yes, there are usually sporadic opportunities for the audience to ask questions, or share comments. However most of the time, during the session, is spent with attendees quietly listening to panel members share their thoughts. That is not energizing.
Not Optimal Learning Conditions — This is the core problem with panel discussions. The human brain is not wired to sit quietly for long periods of time, without some stimuli. So, in the absence of stimuli, the brain shuts down and people become disengaged. A really good book on this subject is called “Brain Rules” by Dr. John Medina. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the brain and its relationship to learning concepts.
For the record this panel was comprised of very credible, knowledgeable business people, with strong experience. They were led by a moderator with a proven track record in that role. I do not blame them one bit for this situation. They delivered what we asked them to, and that was the real mistake. Nuff Said!
Question: Have you encountered a situation where a panel discussion was highly effective? What, in your opinion, made that situation work? If you attended the session referenced in this article, how did it resonate with you?