tips for planning the perfect panel discussion

Tips for Planning the Perfect Panel Discussion

In my work as a motivational speaker, panel discussions are something I’m frequently asked to take part in – acting both as host and contributor.  In my work as an event planner, I frequently orgnaise them. Which is why I want to share my thoughts and tips for planning the perfect panel discussion at an event. And also how to host one!

It’s one of my favourite formats for a corporate event; panel discussions are a powerful way to engage an audience, bring forth diverse perspectives, and provide depth to any subject. For a conference, seminar, or business event, the panel discussion can impart an entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of a topic – highlighting important aspects that you and your audience may not have considered previously. That said, the success of a panel discussion hinges on effective hosting, varied presenting styles and the selection of dynamic individuals with both charisma and expertise.

In this blog, I’ll delve deeper into the art of the panel discussion. Exploring key tips for hosting a lively and engaging event. As well as showcasing different presenting styles of people who I admire and unveiling my tips to keep your audience captivated during your next panel discussion.


Before I launch into my tips for the perfect panel discussion, I want to explain what prompted this blog. Inspiration came from a very special panel discussion to celebrate International Women’s Day being held on the 8th March in Manchester.

I will be joined by Loose Women regular Brenda Edwards, Celebrity MasterChef winner and television presenter, Angellica Bell, Hello! magazine editor-at-large Rosie Nixon, Tv presenter Lizzie Cundy, actress Lisa Riley, television presenter Ruth Langsford and musical theatre star Jodi Prenger as part of a star-studded celebrity line-up for an International Women’s Day lunch debate.

tips for planning the perfect panel discussion

My intention is to honour International Women’s Day 2024 with a unique panel of celebrity women who, despite achieving success in their careers, have all faced the challenge of gender stereotyping.

Find out more here:

And now onto my tips for the perfect panel discussion…….


This is something that as an event planner, I ask myself from the outset. Firstly, if the primary aim is to share diverse perspectives on a specific topic, create audience interaction, or provide in-depth insights, a panel discussion could be the right choice for your event


Panel discussions are interactive and allow for audience questions. Done right, they captivate audiences and keep them enthused. Ask yourself if this will appeal to your proposed audience.

Complex topics

Before deciding on the format, consider the complexity of the topic you want to cover. Panel discussions are well-suited for multifaceted subjects, where opinions may be diverse or divided. So, if you want to present a range of different perspectives on a particular theme, a panel discussion is for you.


Now, this is high on my tips for the perfect panel discussion; time. Evaluate the available time for your event. Panel discussions can be much more time-consuming than a speaker or presentation.  Especially if the debate is strong. So ensure the allotted time allows for meaningful discussions without it feeling rushed or leaving contributors unable to share their views.


So, you’ve decided a panel discussion is right for your event. But when organising one at an event, there are key considerations to address in the initial planning stages.


Firstly, you should clearly define the objectives and understand the purpose, goals, and desired outcomes of the discussion. This will guide your decisions throughout the planning process.

For my International Women’s Day event, the intention is to dig into the journeys of my guests, find out where they get the determination to succeed from, and uncover how together they feel women can drive the change necessary to break gender stereotyping. We also aim to have a fun and engaging style of conversation. Will some secrets be revealed?  You’ll have to find out…


Determine the specific topics or themes you want the panel to address. Consider the interests of your target audience and choose subjects that align with the overall theme of the event. A well-defined topic ensures that the discussion remains relevant and engaging.

tips for planning the perfect panel discussion


Very importantly, invite panellists who have expertise in the chosen topics. If their name is synonymous with a certain issue or viewpoint, it will instantly grab the attention of the audience.  Also look for individuals with diverse insights to provide a well-rounded discussion. You are looking for people who will share their perspective and be prepared to defend it. But, not someone who is so difficult that other panellist aren’t able to share their views. it’s a conversation after all.

With reference to our International Women’s Day event, my aim was to select women from all ages and backgrounds who could demonstrate that no matter what age or specialism, all are bound with common experiences. And more importantly, those who will gel and make it a fun, thought-provoking event. A little celebrity also helps!


Finally, consider audience engagement. Ultimately the purpose of your panel discussion is to challenge, entertain or connect with your guests. Decide how questions will be handled. Will there be a dedicated Q&A session? Or will the audience be encouraged to submit questions throughout the discussion?

Consider using technology for interactive polls or real-time audience feedback.


Check if your event venue and technological setup support a panel discussion format. Are the logistics, such as microphones, seating arrangements, and visual aids, aligned with the requirements of a panel discussion?

Ensure that the seating arrangement allows for easy interaction among panellists. A semi-circle or a straight-line setup often works well, promoting natural conversation flow.

I always say to invest in professionals when it comes to quality audio equipment. This will prevent disruptions and unclear communication. You need somebody in the know who can consider factors like ambient noise and acoustics in the venue.  If you consider filming the panel so you can edit and share later with the audience, or on social media, think about where cameras will need to go.

tips for planning the perfect panel discussion


In my tips for planning the perfect panel discussion, I can’t stress enough how the personalities involved will be key. You’ll want to carefully consider your contributors to ensure they fit the brief and really bring your topic to life. Passion and personality is key, so select those with in-depth knowledge and fresh, varied opinions. Otherwise it can be like watching paint dry!

In assembling your panel, it’s worthwhile going over some of the different presenting styles your guests may have. Here are just a few:

Expert Presentations

Some panellists excel at delivering polished, informative presentations. Encourage them to share key insights, facts, and data. This style is effective for providing a strong foundation on the topic.

Storytelling Approach

Panellists who are adept storytellers add colour and excitement to your discussion. They can share personal anecdotes or case studies to make the discussion relatable to the audience.

Debating Dynamics

Foster a debate-style discussion by inviting panellists with differing viewpoints. This can spark lively debates and bring out nuanced perspectives on the topic.

Interactive Demonstrations

For topics that benefit from a hands-on approach, you could include panellists who can offer interactive demonstrations or practical insights. This style is particularly effective in industries like technology or education.

tips for planning the perfect panel discussion


Your panel is in place and the practical considerations are taken care of. What about the host?

I’ve approached this section using my own experience, but the upshot is the same whether you’re hosting yourself or you’re searching for the right candidate. Thorough preparation is key to becoming a successful panel host.


Whenever I undertake this type of role, thorough research into the topic and panellists is my first port of call. It’s the only way you be sure you can guide the discussion effectively and pose insightful questions.

If you’re the host, it’s advisable to familiarise yourself with the backgrounds, viewpoints, and potential areas of disagreement among the panellists. If you’re working with a professional, then check they have done this or provide briefing sheets and agree a way forward before the event.

If your topic could wander into the realms of controversy, this way you’ll be able to diffuse any volatile discussion points before they become full blown arguments.


As a panel host you will need to also decide on your own stance or agree it with your chosen host. Do you want a neutral moderator – this will be the case in most discussions. Or is the purpose to try to affect change.

Whatever your host’s opinions (private or public) you will need to agree in advance how much you want them to disclose at the event – your PR team can help you with this.

The host’s job on the day is to facilitate the conversation, ensure all panellists have an opportunity to speak, and manage time effectively.

Decide on some key messages you want to get across and ensure the host can steer the discussion back on track if it veers off-topic.


Finally, knowing when to step in and when to back off is another key skill for a panel host. Remember a little bit of heat in the discussion isn’t always bad, but nobody wants to see a full onstage punch up – unless you’re Jerry Springer.


Looking to the professionals for inspiration can always help you to polish a hosting performance, so here are some strong female hosts that I admire.

Ruth Langsford – a regular panel guest and host, and a great friend. Ruth’s warm and approachable demeanour, creates a welcoming atmosphere that puts everyone at ease. Her style contributes to a positive and open discussion as she effectively manages the flow of conversation. Her ability to guide discussions without dominating them showcases her expertise as a moderator.

One of major Ruth’s strengths is her empathetic approach. She actively listens to what the panellists are saying, responds thoughtfully, and ensures that everyone feels heard.

Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor is another female host that I admire greatly. She is known for her analytical and inquisitive hosting style. Laura delves deeply into topics, asking probing questions that encourage panellists to provide comprehensive insights. This style is effective for discussions that require a detailed examination of issues. She is never afraid to press guests on a question to find the crux of the issue.

And of course, the Queen of panel hosts, Oprah Winfrey is renowned for her empathetic and relational hosting style. She creates a sense of connection with both panellists and the audience, often sharing personal stories to establish rapport. This approach fosters an environment where participants feel comfortable opening up.


A successful panel discussion requires a careful blend of preparation, moderation, technology and organisation. As well as a keen understanding of presenting styles. By incorporating diverse perspectives and styles, you can create a dynamic and enriching experience for both panellists and the audience.

Thanks for sharing my tips for planning the perfect panel discussion!