Comments on Panels are Dead
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Here are things people emailed about that post:
Mary. I'm torn. Having been to some of the same conferences you have I know what you mean. When panels go bad, it's stultifying.
However, I'm totally unconvinced that Option #2 you mention really works, with most moderators I've observed anyway.
I like Option #3...would love to try that one!
Anyway, wrote more about it on my worker bees blog. You can click through via my name.
Yes it is totally mind-numbing. What's even worse than panels are panels filled with people who use Powerpoint to do vendor pitches. I am always asked to chair panels at conference on wireless broadband and I lay down very strict rules for my panels: no PPT unless absolutely necessary (for example to show a map of the city's Wi-Fi coverage) and NO vendor pitches. I interrupt people now when I see they are going down the vendor pitch route. I start asking them questions about their municipal projects, interesting things they learned, all the stuff an audience would like to know about. Then, their time is up and lo and behold! They had no time to get through the PPT slides. What a shame, eh?
I share your sentiments on the panel format and so do many others I spoke to at the conference - a podcast is coming soon of comments I grabbed from people over lunch - my feed is http://www.perfectpath.co.uk/index.xml but I just got in off the
Eurostar and my kids are calling for their dinner!
Have hope - several of us are trying to get such an event to happen in London before the end of the year. I'll make sure we throw your rules and Dave Winer's bloggercon guide into the cooking pot.
When I am on a panel, I routinely do all I can think to do to engage the audience in a conversation. Most of the time it doesn't work, and not for lack of trying on my part. I am not sure why. I have speculated that it is because there are just a lot of people who are more interested in listening and thinking about what you are saying than in really engaging you in a conversation!
Mary, I was just at a conference at Berkeley that should have been really interesting, but they also smothered it with panels. Five panelists doing ten minutes each and poof, the session vanishes.
Thanks, Dave, for the link to Mary's post.
From Buzz Bruggman later:
I have thought about the topic a bit more, and think that a panel should never be more than three people tops! One should be a very engaged moderator, who actively solicits comments from the audience, and who tries to draw out contrasting viewpoints from the participants.
But the notion that the Bloggercon model fits all is just not accurate.
My response to them all:
I think my suggestion for led discussions isn't the be all end all, but one possibility, that might be right. I've seen it done successfully, when the leader knows the audience, and can draw out even the shyiest of commenters to contribute. It is tricky and means a leader has to be well chosen by the conference organizers. I'm sure there are other ways and some of you have suggested others above. But the point is, panels in broadcast mode don't work well anymore, especially when the audience is full of people who are breaking out of broadcast mode to user produced media and conversation, and a good led discussion, or something else, that we haven't thought of yet, would be radically more engaging, interesting, and productive than panels that broadcast. I do agree that presentations of research, either singly or in panels is different, and what I'm referring to above is just the panel of discussant style that seems to me to have just become worn out. So, let's figure it out and post it.
I hear what you're saying about panels, though I think they provide a good enough focus/locus... Some of my best moments were the impromptu, like going off outside and having a cigarette and striking up a conversation...
I would say the luncheon the day before was the highlight of my trip. A confab of eight or so. And there were one or two stolen moments I shall remember for a while.
The trick is that it becomes difficult if not impossible to moderate a large room full of people... and we sometimes pay panelists to come talk and they are sometimes a decent part of the attraction for our audience (in the aggregate).
So, I think we need some better ideas about how to have discursive
panels. One thing I've seen Kim Zetter do at the Commonwealth Club is
to pass out notecards on which people could write questions... then
the moderater picks ones that he or she thinks are really good and
relevant (which alleviates that I-was-the-first-to-the-mic bullshit).
That's what I can find in the avalanche of email I just downloaded after returning from Paris. And now, to deal with the jetlag.
Wednesday update: here are some more....
having been on both sides of the panel table many times over my career - you raise good points, however there is one important element that i see as needed...
the knowledge level of the combined audience - those on the panel and those out in the seats...
i remember blogon last year, which was done in traditional panel format - i didn't learn anything new, and would have gladly joined in the discussion if motivated (i wasn't) but a co-worker i brought had never been exposed to any of this, he was old school media, and he soaked it up (that is why i suggested we go)...
would he have wanted to actively participate - no way, he would have had to ask way to many - "why", "how", "can you" types of questions that would have been to rudimentary for a large % of the folks there...
he came to listen and learn - passively...
bloggercon is run as an anti-conference - with success, yet numerous folks commented that they wished certain folks speaking up would have gotten more time to talk - they were left wanting so that "quantity of voice" ruled over "quality of voice"...
so, i guess my point is - depending on the forum and audience, eliminate the panelists on high - unless of course that is what most people came to hear - a small group of knowledgeable guides sharing their experiences so others can benefit...
sorry - this is long, i should have trackbacked it, but it would have been off topic for my blog, other than the fact that i will be on a podcasting panel in may :-p
i do hope those w/ something to say at that one will not be shy and join in the fun ;)
And my response to Mike:
Mike, just to clarify, at Blogon, the rest of the organizers wanted panels and so we did them, but I went around and around with them, arguing for led discussions for at least some of it. Ironically, we did manage to get three in the afternoon, during split sessions. Though I must admit that about a month before the conference, while I was on vacation, the rest of our program committee managed to slip "semi-panels" into the led discussions... which teaches me never to go on vacation. But even so, those sessions were the most well attended part of Blogon. I do think and agree with you that led discussion require a knowledgeable audience and leader, but we had both on hand this weekend, and for a similar situation, I'd recommend a variety of formats, to keep engagement and learning high, instead of just panels in their traditional sense.
Posted by Mary Hodder at April 26, 2005 09:24 PM
My 2 cents. I really think it depends on the audience. If the gap is huge and the audience really wants a primer, panels or even lectures are good. If it's a bunch of people who know each others work (mostly) the the bloggercon thing works. It's the ones that are mixed... where there are people who'd rather just listen, mixed with a bunch of people who want to participate (sometimes these people are all speakers) that it gets a bit difficult. I agree that anything boring is no fun, but I find that when I'm speaking to a fresh audience who really want to get up to speed, 30 min to 1 hr of focused one-way followed by Q&A can be more enlightening than a scattered round-table sort of discussion among people who don't have a clue. I find this a lot of Creative Commons discussions when people start out with a complete misunderstanding and you sort of have to argue backwards from their assertions.
But I guess I'm reiterating stuff others have said.