Another Example of the Futility of Panels

September 29, 2010

in Ideas

It’s no big news that I don’t like speaker panels in conferences. Often it’s a way to fit several people on stage and almost always a big waste of time for the attendees, as hardly any real content or interesting discussion comes out of them.

In this article, famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mark Suster (blog, twitter) describes his participation on a panel with fellow VCs at Techcrunch Disrupt 2010:

What do you get when you combine 7 panelist plus one moderator on to a stage for 30 minutes to talk about a serious topic?  Answer: Not much. And that was evident on today’s Angel vs. VC panel. It’s a shame. There are real changes in the venture capital industry and it would have been fun to talk about them. I said almost nothing in the 30 minutes.

Suster has often (rightfully) complained about panels (here and here), describing that a good panel should “[…] educate, entertain, have a dialog, don’t be boring […]”.

A panel durign a previous edition of Techcrunch Disrupt (photo by andystenberg)

I totally agree with him as almost always panels are a conference-killer. As an event organizer you should avoid them whenever possible or focus on setting up debates with two speakers that have an opposite view on one issue, making them engage in a real (and honest) discussion. Otherwise, it’s better to give the stage for 10 minutes to each of the speakers individually, or have them interviewed by an outstanding moderator, that should enforce the “good health” of the show.

The worse panels? Those that transform into a never ending marketing pitch or a friendly conversation by a bunch of people that agree and compliment with each other…

  • Erythros

    Well I have to say that personally I hate panels. But I would say: The worst panels are when there are more than 4 speakers. It is killing combination: You have, or moderator has, some 30-45 minutes, four or more panelists and hall full of people and one (sometimes more) topic. You cannot go through all interesting stuff so in the end it is shooting range with words, or friendly activity of patting on backs or it is show with moderator as a star. In all of those scenarios the informations are not good enought.

    So it best to think about panels as “rest” program. Something funny for visitors. (I have seen couples of panels which ended in flame discussion between panelists, but there was even problem in submissive moderator). Which brings me question – Should be moderator dominant or submissive (meaning personality)?

    Also you can get panelists who would be OK with discussion, they can be very good specialists, know what they are doings etc. and be good enought in panel but they cannot be necessary sufficient to have 10 minutes speach on stage. 10 minutes is short and one has to have some practise to use it well.

  • Gianfranco Chicco

    I have occasionally seen good panels but they very hard to come by. Unless you have the right topic and right moderator and -as you say- a group of panelists of not more than 4 (incl. the moderator), then I suggest that conference organizers avoid them… especially as closing act.

    IMHO the moderator should be dominant from the point of view of being able to manage the action on stage, avoid boring moments and don’t allow one panelist take all of the attention.

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