Tips for Hosting a Successful Panel Discussion

  1. Pick a Panel Theme: Identify the theme you want to focus on for the panel. Is there a specific topic you want the panel to discuss? Do you want to focus on educating people? Or having an open discussion? Or describing experiences? The more direction you have, the easier it will be to lead the discussion.
  2. Determine Panel Style: Determine the style of panel you want – do you want it to be more audience-forward with a Q&A session from the audience? Or do you want it mainstage style, where only the moderator(s) asks questions and there is no audience Q&A?
  3. Prepare Questions Beforehand: Have questions prepared beforehand, regardless of the panel style. Questions should be relevant to the topic of the panel/symposium/session. Keep questions short.
  4. Prepare the Panelists: Brief your panelists on the format of the panel, how it will be run, and share prepared questions with panelists before the panel.
  5. Take Notes: If you have presentations prior to the panel, take notes on the speakers’ specialties and topics and any questions that arise during their presentations. These can be brought up later during the panel/Q&A discussion.
  6. Introduce Panelists: Do introductions of your panel prior to starting the panel just in case anyone missed the scientific presentations. Moderators can introduce the speakers or have the speakers introduce themselves. If moderators do introductions, moderators can ask panelists to prepare a short paragraph describing the panelist or the moderator can look up their biographies on their lab or institution website, if any. If the panelists introduce themselves, the panelists should be informed about this beforehand to prepare accordingly and to ensure they don’t make a long-winded introduction.
  7. Encourage Audience Participation: Encourage your audience to ask their own questions before you start the panel and remind the audience about this throughout the panel session.
  8. Use Your Prepared Questions: If there is a lull in audience questions, ask your prepared questions. That’s what they’re there for!
  9. You are the Moderator: Don’t be afraid to maintain order – you are the moderator/organizer of the event! You should guide the conversation and have it flow in the right direction if anyone ends up going off-topic.
  10. Make Connections: Highlight key takeaways for the audience at the end of the panel to connect the main theme of the symposium with the presentations and panel discussions.
  11. Stay on Time: Keep an eye on the time and end your symposium at the scheduled time listed in the program.
Want to learn more? See other content tagged with