Panel dynamics

I was on a panel this morning with two other panelists and a moderator. The topic itself was rich and fascinating. Yet from my perspective the experience was a disappointment. And I think it was a matter of structure.

OK, here’s how the panel was structured: After each of the panelists had briefly introduced our work, the moderator started asking questions for each of us to answer in turn. When we were all done answering each question, she would then ask a different question. This went on until we ran out of time.

The problem with this structure was that there was no way for the panelists to engage each other in a conversation. I had many things to say in response to the extremely interesting things the other panelists were saying — sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes just riffing off their thoughts — but none of that ever happened.

There was no back and forth, no exploring of ideas between the panelists to synthesize something new. The nearest we ever got to an organic conversation was a brief exchange I had with one of the other panelists before the list of questions ever started.

In his intro, he had talked about some of his research that involved administering pain to volunteers in order to study whether VR would reduce their response to pain. Before I began my intro, I jokingly asked him “Wow, how did you get IRB approval for that?”

He jokingly responded “It’s ok. It’s for science!” And then I said, “Yeah, that always works out well.” The audience laughed, and it looked like the start of a really interesting discussion thread.

But that was the last moment any of us panelists had a chance to address each other. After that, it was all just Q&A. There was no opportunity for humor, or irony, or creative energy of any sort between the panelists. To me it all seemed very, very dry, and the audience missed out on what could have been a lively and illuminating discussion.

I am wondering whether I should say anything to the moderator about this. I appreciate having been invited to participate, and I don’t want to sound critical, but this might be a case where a little constructive criticism could result in future panels being better.

4 thoughts on “Panel dynamics”

  1. Only that potential awkwardness of any conversation that includes an element of criticism. You are never completely sure how people will react.

  2. Maybe phrase it as a suggestion rather than a criticism (after thanking them for the invitation). E.g , “I would have enjoyed having an opportunity to interact with the other panelists during the session and to hear them interact with each other.”

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