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Facilitating Panel Discussions


A client recently called to say she was going to facilitate a panel for the next business meeting. She had never done so before and asked if I could coach her. After the session, she realized that there are some basic skills needed when facilitating a panel of speaker.

To create a seamless and smooth panel discussion here are some tips every facilitator must know:

Meet the panelists in advance: The meeting can be a phone call. Get a sense of their styles and message points. Decide how long each person will speak and in what order. Have them send an introductory paragraph.

Consider logistics: Contact the meeting planner and visit the room. Discuss room set-up, lighting, refreshments, microphones and AV equipment. Decide whether the panelists will sit or stand during their presentations.

Arrive one hour early: Check the room, test the microphones. Check seating visibility. Be ready to greet the panelists with a smile. You're the host. Make them feel welcome.

Prepare a short bio:. Give your bio to the person who will introduce you as the facilitator. Keep it brief-no more than a paragraph.

Make your opening remarks: A statement about the topic and the benefits for the audience will prepare the audience to listen. "We expect to have a lively discussion tonight about the state of the economy. Our three speakers have differing view about where to put your money?. Our first speaker?."

Set the ground rules: Let the audience know what to expect. "There will be a 30 minute question and answer period after the presentations. Please hold your questions until the end."

Introduce the speakers: It works best to introduce the first panelist. After the presentation, introduce the next panelist. If you read all the introductions at once, people will forget the information. Practice saying their names and write them out phonetically if the names are difficult.

Act as time keeper: Sit in front of the panelists and give them a 5 minute time signal. You can write the number 5 on an index card or you can hold up 5 fingers. If the panelist is running over, give the speaker a wrap up signal. Or interject, "You have 30 seconds to summarize."

Facilitate questions: It's your job to keep order. Thank the panelists, applaud with the audience and open up the floor for questions. Explain the process. "Please stand, say your first name, and be brief."If somebody is rambling on, jump in and paraphrase or ask them "What is your question?"

If nobody asks a question, the facilitator can ask the first question. So have one ready. Or choose somebody in advance to ask the first question.At the five minute mark, let the group know that you'll have time for a couple of more questions. Then announce, "Last question."

Summarize and acknowledge: "That was an interesting discussion. You've given us a new way to look at our investments. Please help me thank our panelists. (Applause)

Copyright Diane DiResta 2005. All rights reserved.

Diane DiResta, President of DiResta Communications, Inc. is an International speaker, training coach, and author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz. To subscribe to Impact Player, a free online newsletter visit http://www.diresta.com


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