Why Panels Suck

I’ve written about this before, but since I’m wedged in with 400 others at the Beyond Broadcast conference, it’s worth repeating. After publishing hundreds of conference sessions over the past four years, we continue to see that the popularity (and quality) of sessions is inversely proportional to the number of speakers. The best are always the inspirational single-speaker sessions such as Henry Jenkins’ keynote here. At the other extreme are the panels: rarely good, such as the Participatory Culture discussion during which Dave (hi, Dave), Doc, David I and others are trying to stay awake.

The problems are threefold. First, conference producers tend to staff panels using speakers they don’t think are strong enough to justify solo sessions. Second, some producers use panel-slot invitations as payback/thanks for favors. Third, there just isn’t enough time. I’ve flown from one coast to the other, burning up the better part of three days, to be one of five speakers on a one-hour panel. How much value can I transfer in just 12 minutes?

Panels *can* be good if there’s a good moderator and there’s real discussion between the panelists, but all too often panels are nothing more than an assembly of too-short individual presentations.

4 thoughts on “Why Panels Suck

  1. I attended your Podcast Academy 2 in Boston and loved your method for delivering quality speakers without panel blur.

    It’s part of how Chris Penn and I modeled our plan for PodCamp. We wanted the most value translation between speaker and participant.

    At our spring Video on the Net event this spring, there will be single-speaker only spots, and no panels. We’re hoping this helps answer your observation above.

    Best to you, Doug.


  2. The other limitation of panels is all the time spent by panelists on the history of their work/org/initiative. This is not always the fault of the panelists, but perhaps this could be mitigate by referring the audience to a short description of the org or panelists in a program guide. I often find that the panel format takes a long time to jump straight to substantive issues or valuable opinions and key thoughts the panelists really have to offer.

    As an audience member I don’t mind a short description or some marketing, but what I really want to hear is how this person thinks about an issue, what challenges they are facing or something else that I can’t read on the the persons/organizations website.


  3. I’ve found that it all comes down to a good panel moderator who has the attitude of a “Jerry Springer” – keep the conversation flowing and cut people off quickly so there is the appearance of a “debate” more than a panel <- weather it is of value is another matter, entertainment is half the battle.


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