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Panel Discussion Plans to Excite and Educate

Panel Discussion

The dreaded panel planning session – so much to balance to ensure successful delivery of chapter value and keep members, as well as non-members, coming back for more. If you take the time needed to get the job done correctly, then there isn’t any worry about member satisfaction and engagement.

Planning a panel discussion isn’t a last-minute event. Your planning committee needs to manage concentrated planning over the course of several months to ensure a positive outcome. It is important to recognize that preparation doesn’t begin when you hold that first meeting to make decisions for the panel. It is an ongoing process that continues long after the event ends as you project plans for the next one.

Thankfully, there are some key steps to take to guarantee that your next panel discussion event will be successful. Take a look:

Step One: Listen to member feedback. Evaluate surveys from the previous panel discussion, both to see what improvements are needed and to select the right topic as requested by your audience – your chapter members, prospects, and guests.

Step Two: Select a relevant topic. Based on member feedback and industry trends, choose a topic that will be an educational draw for both your members and non-members alike. Try to make it unique, but not so much so that it becomes too niche of a topic.

Step Three: Decide on panel participants. Decide first how you plan to select panel speakers, by invite or open call. Invited speakers provide a greater semblance of control to certify demographic diversity is represented by the panel, but an open call may bring in an application that you never could have dreamt of finding. A possible solution is to have a combined selection process, with some of the seats filled by recommendation and selection of the planning committee and some seats filled through selection from applications. Either way, each participant on the panel should be a representative expert within the topic and your industry.

Step Four: Arrange the moderator. To facilitate the discussion, hire a talented moderator. This can be someone from within the industry, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t just use someone you have used before because it’s easy. The moderator sets the tone for the entire event and they should know what they are doing. Make sure they have what they need to do their job well, including proper name pronunciations and biographical material on the panel participants.

Step Five: Gather content. Have each panel participant and the moderator send you a bio. Use this to prepare materials for distribution at the event and before the event in advertisements. Place the bios on the website, flyers, and anywhere else relevant.

Step Six: Proofread everything. This should be self-explanatory, but unfortunately, errors happen. The most important aspect here is to certify that the speaker and moderator names are spelled correctly and their respective details are correct including the companies they work for. This should be an ongoing with many eyes  proofing materials before distribution.

Step Seven: Announce the panel event. As soon as the moderator and panel participants are finalized begin the promotion process. In fact, even before this finalization happens you can share the information to open-up ticket sales. Utilize all available channels for getting the word out, including social media, mail, and the emailed newsletter.

Step Eight: Administer ticket sales. The event should not be free. Set a price with discount options built in for early purchase, membership level, and any extras that may exist. You can even offer extra specials early on as incentive to make sales. This is an important non-dues revenue building opportunity beyond just meeting the financial obligations of planning the event.

Step Nine: Provide panel participants with guidance. Ask each panel member to prepare an opening statement on the topic to get the ball rolling. Let them know what key questions you will start them off with and that the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions to build a discussion with the audience.

Step Ten: Manage logistics. While the venue should have been arranged before even selecting the panel participants, a few weeks before the event up until the day of, you need to make sure all the necessities for the event are accounted for. This includes microphones, speakers, tables, chairs, stools, food, refreshments, or anything else your planning team has deemed essential for the success of the event.

Step Eleven: Execute the event. Welcome attendees with check-in tables and presence of chapter leadership. Be sure to allow some time before and after the panel discussion for networking, whether or not your speakers can be part of this opportunity. Trust that your moderator has the event handled and allow yourself to focus on providing a value-filled experience. Engage in discussion. Encourage participation. Empower your members. Make the event everyone’s, not just the planning committee or the speakers.

Step Twelve: Seek evaluation from attendees. Once the event is over, send an email to attendees inviting them to complete a survey. This gives them the opportunity to provide feedback about the actual event and submit their thoughts for the next event. Use this material to evaluate your progress and prepare to plan. This allows for the continuity of value for chapter membership.

Your members joined your chapter for a reason. One of those reasons has to do with the value you offer through educational and networking opportunities. Following these steps to help guide the process of planning, so that your members can realize the value they expect.

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