Distinguished Panels Stink!


Ever go to a convention or seminar where they have a session or luncheon with a panel of experts? Along with the  “distinguished panelists” will be a moderator that asks timely questions. The panelists are clearly important and knowledgeable people. The questions are usually about a specific topic, often related to a specific industry, market or region of the country.

What a waste. I rarely hear anything new or interesting. Maybe one speaker will have some great insight. However, the panelists usually “play nice,” speak in overly generic or vague ideas, and regurgitate information anyone well informed probably already knows.

The problem is not really the main topic or theme. These are usually timely and important. I’ve seen recent panels about the local economy, new laws, the impact of social media, or new trends in business. The topics are typically similar to the topics I discuss with our clients and they discuss with their clients. In other words, the topics are what businesses are discussing and trying to learn more about.Business people standing confidently

No, the problem is the panel structure. Even with a great moderator (which is rare), each speaker has little time to get into the meat of a topic. In the interest of appearing polite, I rarely see panelists even hint at disagreement. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “If they all agree so much, why are they all here? Couldn’t just one of them given us a solid insight into the topic alone?”

So why have panels? I think it is because it is easy. It is easier to attract attendees to your event if you have more “big” names on the speaker list. It is easier on the panelists because they won’t have to prepare very hard to simply answer a few questions with general, shoot-from-the-hip answers they likely have already given in interviews or with their clients.

It can sometimes be easier to attract panelists together than any one of them alone. Why? Because they may see it as a way to network with important peers, or people they look up to, that have also agreed to serve on the panel. It may also be easier to assemble a panel because within any given large group of busy potential panelists it is possible to find four or five that are available. And it is easier, and often less expensive, to have a panel than to find a dynamic speaker with great ideas and an interesting presentation.

Yet for all my complaining, there is an important lesson we can learn from distinguished panels. I believe the lesson is that if you want your message heard, playing it easy and making it boring may gain a few ears initially but no lasting impact.

Your messages may be for leadership, marketing, sales, projects, or careers. If those messages suggest a big important idea and then only deliver boring and forgettable, what good was that effort? You and your message will either be forgotten or, perhaps worse, remembered as boring and of little value.

Don’t let your messages be lost in the distinguished panel syndrome. Safe and boring may feel safe. It’s not. Be the one that has a message that stands out, adds value, and creates new perspective.


Glenn S. Phillips is the author of Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself. His website, www.nerdtoenglish.com, will lead you to more information about effective communication training, risk assessments and genuinely helpful tips. You can email Glenn directly at glennsphillips@nerdtoenglish.com.

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.