Panels are a value-added feature at many natural hair, beauty or fashion events. I have served on several panels, some related to natural hair, others not. In order to maximize the value a panel adds to your event, here are some tips and thoughts to consider:
Consider quality over quantity when choosing panelists. Panelists are usually a draw for events and therefore natural hair event planners seek to expand our audience pool by having as many panelists as possible. Most panelists add a great deal of information and inspiration to your events. Where the quality can diminish (in my opinion) is in not having enough time for the panelists to actually give a complete answer. Most panelists are pretty verbose and most questions asked cannot be answered in a couple of sentences. Of course, a panel is only one part of your event so it cannot continue endlessly. So consider limiting the number of panelists on one given panel, but be very strategic in the type of panelists you choose. You could have avery well-rounded and lively panel of 3 made of a blogger, licensed hairstylist and someone into health or fitness. Or you could have bloggers of varying ethnicities or hair textures. My recommendation is between 3-6 panelists, depending on time allotted for the panel.
Set length of panel discussion according to topic and number of panelists. In order to make participating in your panel worth their time and effort (especially if you’re paying them), panelists need at least 8-10 total minutes of solo talk time. Most panels first question is some version of “Why did you go natural?” No matter how many times we’ve told the story or how succintly we try to tell it, it is rarely an answer that can be communicated in under 2 minutes. I often find this one question can put the panel “behind” in terms of time and we spend the rest of the time being told to “keep it brief.” It is a little unnerving to give a full answer (especially to an audience question) when you’re under the gun to keep answers brief and succinct. The pressure would lessen if you allow an adequate amount of time for panelists to speak. I am not saying give them a platform for a sermon or workshop presentation (smile), but give them some opportunity to allow their information and personality to shine (this is another opportunity for panelists to brand themselves–especially if they are trying to build their brand).
Give panelists list of questions prior to panel time. This helps them think of their answers before hand. This will minimize the amount of “dead air” during the panel while panelists are thinking of an answer. Of course you will not be able to do this with audience questions, but consider providing the same questions to your panel that you provide to your moderator.
Offer panelists a forum to go more in depth or interact more personally with attendees. Offer panelists a booth or a workshop session where they can share more of their expertise or interact more personally with the event attendees. One concept to try is a panelists’ corner (or booth) or a panelists’ lounge where the panelists can relax and interact with event attendees at the same time.
Do not forego audience questions in lieu of time. My recommendation is to ask 2 pre determined questions, then take a question from the audience. This will give the audience and panelists a little while to warm up to each other. If you find yourself with less than 10 minutes left in the panel discussion, go straight to the audience and use the previously created questions only if there is a lull in audience participation. Approaching a panel discussion this way ensures that the audience is getting the questions they actually want an answer to answered.
What are the things you do to make your panels informative and interactive?
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