Here's a technique I use to Host panel discussions, that will help you get more out of them as a listener.
If you want to ensure the panel discussion at any event you’re attending is one of the highlights, pretend you’re hosting it from your seat. You don’t have to be a pro host for this to achieve amazing results.
I’ve moderated several panels at corporate events this past month, and countless over my 30+ year career. What I strive to accomplish as the Host of panels at plenary sessions, conferences, and Town Halls is what you can emulate as an attendee. You'll get the most out of the information, key messaging and takeaways as possible. The strategy inspires better pathways for personal and professional success for you and will also make the panels even more enjoyable.
I call my approach: “Adaptive Rhythm”.
I start by visualizing a sound wave, like in any science graphic. I imagine the baseline for the discussion, from start to finish, is a horizontal axis through the middle of the pattern formed by waves above and below it. My goal is to present a variety of sizes and frequencies to the peaks and valleys of the waves. This keeps the conversation energized.
The opposite is what you don’t want to represent your panel discussion: a flat line straight across, from beginning to end.
Each panelist will bring their own ideas and energy and, therefore, there’s the potential for great modulation from the outset. As Host, I amplify those speakers so their authentic “spikes” above the line have their intended results. My contributions are the neutral areas between their waves, and valleys below the axis.
These moments don't take away from the speakers’ “waves”. They are, instead, complementary bridging mechanisms to connect the waves and keep the rhythm moving forward and the content compelling for the audience. This involves listening to speakers and creatively segueing to the next person. I even use entertaining, anecdotal, or interactive elements to let important information be digested by the audience before moving to the next speaker’s content.
There may be improvised moments, audience interaction, a return to missed points, technical issues, or any number of irregularities in the planned pattern of speaker “waves”. Adapting to these arrhythmia turns them into positive contributions instead of complications.
When you’re attending a panel discussion, imagine you’re the one who will bridge between the speakers. This immediately gets you listening and mindful about what’s happening in the moment and might come next. You don't have insight to inform your creative segues in between speakers. But, you can think of how you would have handled it once you’ve heard a little of each person’s content as the conversation moves down the panel line.
Make a visual note of the peaks and valleys, the irregularities, and how you would make each wave of the conversation come together as one cohesive rhythm.Even if the actual host doesn’t do this, you’ve got more control over how much you enjoy and learn from each panel. Sound good?