When a group of leaders or scholars present information jointly, a Panel Forum style meeting is the ideal delivery platform. Generally, a panel consists of several speakers [the experts], each with their own presentation that supports or contributes to the topic of a Seminar or Conference. Success is measured by audience attendance and the value they place on the information obtained. There are five key and essential elements to success in creating a successful Panel Forum Meeting.
The 5 Essential Elements of Panel Forum Meetings:
- Choosing the right space [Virtual or Physical]
- Planning the presentations
- Planning for questions
- Educating the presenters
- Setup and Crew Call
Essential Element #1 - Choosing the right space [Virtual or Physical]
During times of social distancing, Panel Forum Meetings can be held online, virtually. Even during normal business times, using web-based tools such as ZOOM, Teams and WebEx allow low cost participation from experts or guests to large audiences.
Physical meeting spaces such as hotel ballrooms offer the key meeting attribute of social interaction with guests and panelists.
The space, whether Virtual or Physical, in which the Panel Forum will be held is the first key success factor in planning the meeting.
Virtual (Online) Panel Forums
Using web-based applications a virtual Panel Forum can be arranged that includes presenters and contributors from separate locations. In this way, a Panel Forum can be electronically created with each presenter participating from their own location.
Event management companies that specialize in meeting management using web applications like Zoom, Teams and WebEx can oversee the Panelist’s presentations and facilitate expert transitions between speakers.
Effective Panel Forums can be created with good planning for the timelines, agenda and the order of panelist comments. Good planning for these items enables panelists and their presentations to be seen and heard well either in full screen or split screen modes. Meetings can be arranged on short notice and additional presenters can be added with little change to the management of the meeting.
In-Person (Physical) Panel Forums
For In-Person Panel Forums, the physical size and shape of the space [wide, narrow, deep, oblong] will significantly affect the attendee experience. A long and narrow meeting room for example will cause attendees to feel distant from the panel of speakers and in-turn the impact of presentations can be diminished.
An ideal space should include ample space for the presenters and a small stage [hotel's often call a stage a "riser"] that elevates the presenters slightly above the audience. This elevation allows audience members furthest away from the presenters to see them without obstruction. Planning for the risers and one or two steps to allow the meeting presenters to easily walk up and down is important. Equally important is space planning for the technical team of audio and video specialists. Their space is best made unobtrusive and so planning for them at the rear or side of a meeting space is advisable.
Essential Element #2 - Planning the Presentation
Good presentations are well planned. Planning includes first determining how to present information to the expected audience in the space that has been selected. A common mistake in Panel Forum, Seminar or Symposium planning is to leave the presentation preparation to the presenter(s) and to organize the event planning with only event coordinators. This inevitably leads to problems with the quality of presentations.
There are a number of presentation types, some of which are easy to overlook. To create a successful Panel Forum each should be considered separately and planned thoughtfully:
- Speaker's Voices Only
- Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation
- Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation with Video/Audio
- Remote Participant Presentations (video, audio, chat)
- Remote Telephone Audio Presentation
- Audience Participation
Each of these presentation types requires thoughtful planning and careful configuration. Leaving the planning of presentations to the presenters can leave important questions and capabilities out of the planning process. For example, while microphones are commonly used to support audio from people, an entirely different audio architecture should be used to support audio from a computer or telephone caller.
Advance planning for each segment of every speaker's presentation is essential to ensure that there are no missed expectations and no missed queues during the event.
Essential Element #3 - Planning for Questions
A common failure or weakness in Panel Forum style meetings is the management of questions from the audience. Quite often the sole planning for questions is simply reminding the presenters to "repeat questions from the audience prior to answering them." Much more can be done to create an energizing question period.
When unplanned, question sessions become sources of poor audio with audience members not hearing or understanding questions. Once this sets in, answers can become disjointed and the value of the question can be lost on the audience. Alternatively, when planned well, a question session can become a clarifying period in which information that has been presented is tuned to the audience's interests.
A good way to begin a question session is with advance questions that may be obtained at the time of attendee registration for the Panel Forum. There is no better way to effectively manage questions than for the experts to have them in advance. For questions taken directly from the audience, microphones either placed conveniently or managed by "mic runners" can add volume to what otherwise can be difficult to hear audience questions. Additionally, the panel of experts can anticipate questions and ask them of one another.
There are a number of additional methods of handling questions and the common feature of each method is planning. A well-planned question period is essential to effective audience interaction and the overall success of a Panel Forum style meeting.
Essential Element #4 - Educating the Presenters
For nearly every meeting type including the Panel Forum, planning the event with the presenters is nearly an impossible task. They typically just are not available to plan their meeting participation. While this may seem like an obvious stumbling block, it can be overcome. Clearly, the presenter's understanding of the timing of the event and both the tools and the team that will support them is critical to success. In this area advance planning is critical - even without the presenter's involvement.
The technical and event team lead must plan a very short meeting with each presenter just prior to the event start time. While it may seem impossible to meet and describe the functioning aspects of a meeting such as a Panel Forum in just minutes, it can be done.
Generally, panel speakers and guest presenters will arrive at the meeting venue between 10 and 30 minutes prior to the session's start time. Thirty minutes (30) should be requested of them but they may only allow for 10. However long, this period is critical for educating them about the way the session will be managed technically. As each presenter arrives, the designated lead event coordinator should introduce themselves as the audio visual technical lead for the meeting. At this time, a brief but specific overview of the event should be made to each individual presenter or to all presenters simultaneously. Every presenter must understand how each of the following will be handled:
Presenter Educational Items
- How the microphones function
- How and when they will make their presentation
- How questions will be asked and should be answered
- What the audience will expect from the presentations
Essential Element #5 - Setup and Crew Call
Planning for an important meeting such as a Panel Forum culminates with the setup of the event itself. Regardless of the start time, the meeting setup should be performed the day (or evening) prior.
Routing cables, anticipating traffic flow of guests, moving or rearranging tables all can take place with care and thoughtfulness when performed well in advance of the meeting. The setup of systems should include the panel risers, tables, chairs and both piping and draping of the stage and surrounding areas. On the day of the meeting itself, all of the crew should arrive to find their systems "ready-to-go".
The important element of when the technical crew should arrive onsite for the event itself is called the "Crew Call". Crew Call should be set two hours prior to the event start time with all members of the technical crew arriving at this time. This gives the crew time to work out the agenda and meeting transitions one last time before guests and meeting organizers arrive.
The Setup and Crew Call solidify the numerous planning details for presenters and guests that have gone into the Panel Forum's event management. All aspects of the meeting are reviewed and rehearsed in the Setup and Crew Call timeframes. This is essential to a Panel Forum meeting's success.