How to Liven Up a Panel Discussion

By Kristin Arnold, January 11, 2018

An unengaged audience is the worst nightmare for a panel. No matter how much homework they do—collect talking points and examples, check out the other speakers and participate in a pre-panel conference call—the energy in the room can still end up flat. Planners can assist panelists by suggesting these techniques to connect to the audience during a session.

1. Mingle with the audience.

Chat with as many attendees as you can: introduce yourself, shake people’s hands, thank them for coming and learn their names.

2. Take a poll.

Engage with the audience early on, especially if you don’t know who’s in the room.

3. Share an example.

Elaborate on your topic with a real-world reason why the issue is important.

4. Tell a quick story.

Make sure it’s memorable and applicable to the audience.

5.  Spark conversation.

Share the airtime and stimulate conversation onstage and with the audience.

6. Nudge the crowd.

Ask a provocative question to the audience and have them talk about it for a minute with their neighbors.

7. Show and tell.

Use a prop to strengthen your audience’s ability to visualize, understand, accept and remember an idea, concept or theme.

8. Demo your idea.

Show the audience what you are talking about or have them experience it for themselves.

9. Create a tweetable sound bite.

Share one of your key points in a “headline” format—a phrase of no more than five words that encapsulates your idea.

10. Have a call to action.

Make a request to the audience based off what they experienced during the panel.


Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold is a high-stakes meeting facilitator, conference designer and professional panel moderator. For more than 20 years, she has facilitated conversations between leaders to help them make better decisions and achieve substantive results. Author of the award-winning book, “Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Your Audience to Action,” she is also a past president of the National Speakers Association, and serves on the Executive Development Faculty for York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

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