Please, not another panel

Those of you who frequent meetups and conferences may be familiar with “panels” or “fireside chats”. For those who aren’t familiar, panels typically feature a group of five or so often prominent people with similar backgrounds. Panels almost always have a moderator responsible for contriving and delivering a set of questions to the panel, who then takes turns answering them.

Event organizers often opt for panels for the wrong reasons, and it shows.

Panels offer the greatest perceived value, but the least actual value. Panels offer the highest perceived value while requiring the least preparation from participants. What do I mean? On paper, panels sound great. “It’s like five talks by five different speakers in a fifth of the time!“. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Think of it this way: nobody goes to the bookstore, reads the back cover of five books, then calls it good. Sure you’ll get some high level insight on the synopsis of the books. Sure you could tell your friends you read each of the books and maybe get away with it, but we can all agree that you’d be much better off just reading one book front to back.

Panels require almost no preparation from anyone involved. As an event organizer, it’s much easier to convince someone to participate in your panel than it is for you to convince them to write a speech, practice it, then deliver said talk in front of the audience. Instead, panel members often need nothing more than to show up and talk out of their ass. Great talks typically consist of a speaker with a thesis, something they are passionate about, something they have researched, and something they want to share. Panels remove all of this.

Panels make it easier to attract bigger names. It’s easier to get bigger names to speak on a panel than to give a talk, because they require no preparation. However, when marketing the event, organizers often promote the fact that the panel participant is speaking, when in reality they are merely speaking on a panel.

Panels are safe. Why do event organizers opt for panels? Because panels are easy. Panels are safe. Think about it. Panels allow a speaker to cancel, if need be, without forcing the organizer to rearrange the schedule.

Panels are great at offering high level insight from a group of people with varying backgrounds. When they are pulled off properly, this can be great! But more often than not, event organizers opt for panels for the wrong reasons, and it’s reflected in the lack of value offered to attendees.

(If you think I’m missing something, email me: colby@aley.me)

thank you Leah for help revising early versions of this.

 
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