Opinion piece

Panel discussions are boring – here’s how to fix them

Everyone knows that the best time to catch up on your emails at a conference is during the panel discussions, writes Andrea Carpenter.

That’s because the collection of speakers on stage will usually present a united front, an adept display in consensus and optimism that rarely gets below the surface of the topic in hand.

It’s a real shame, because panel discussions are such a great concept – a chance to bring together diverse experts to pull apart the meat of a market or trend, while at the same time informing and entertaining the audience.

They are a cornerstone of our industry’s vast conference programme, so why are we getting them so wrong?

Diversity is key

One main issue, of course, is the lack of diversity.

Diverse panels bring new perspectives, opinions and exchange of views, which is healthy for an industry as well as more interesting to listen to.

With Women Talk Real Estate, we advocate for female experts to use the visibility of the industry stage to help with gender representation.

At the heart of what we do is a database of female experts that are keen to speak at industry events.

This network is then accessed by event organisers who can then identify the right female expert as they put together their conference programmes.

So far, our database numbers 450 female experts from across Europe and we’ve seen 130 invitations to speak issued through the system to 77 different women – so we are not only increasing the number of female speakers on stage but also the range of experts being asked.

We are pleased to be working closely with EG, which is committed to diverse events and also doing a great job to bring more female experts to the fore with its REWIRE initiative.

Working together

Audiences are often quick to blame event organisers when they see a lack of diversity on stage. We’ve been pulled into a couple of Twitter storms recently with people calling out all-male panels.

We need to work really hard together to achieve diversity on stage, so I’d like to stand up for the event organisers who are on the frontline.

We work with many seeking out diverse speakers for events and it’s not always easy getting a date in the diary in the right timeframe.

So, rather than calling them out, please help.

If you are asked to be on a panel, check how they are doing on diversity and send them in our direction rather than turn them down.

If you are a female being asked to be on a panel, and you can’t do it, please suggest other female experts to take your place.

If you are asked for recommendations for panellists, try to make your list 50/50 male/female and get in touch if you need ideas.

Panel preparation

Beyond diversity, I’ve also delved deeper into the format and dynamics of panel discussion and now find it increasingly frustrating that I see hardly anyone taking them seriously.

Panellists pitch up unprepared, having skipped the preparation call, not checking in with the moderator or reading through the questions. They then step on stage fully prepared to “wing it”.

Of course, as an expert, you know your lines. But how many times do you pay to go to the theatre to watch actors that have not rehearsed?

Without taking the short time to prepare, panellists bumble through answers, taking the path of least resistance to not say anything too controversial, and not knowing if it will chime with or oppose the views of others on the panel.

This is not about hammering out the spontaneity of the conversation beforehand, but a chance for panellists to “know your opponents” (I use the term loosely, but none of us would mind a bit of sparring).

We run training courses on how to be better panellist as we know that there is a lot to think about and understand to do them well.

It’s a great compliment to be asked, as an expert, to represent yourself and your company on stage.

We want the females in our network to make the most of that, but that should also be the case for everyone.

Andrea Carpenter is a Director of Women Talk Real Estate

This article was first published by EG on 18/04/2018
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