this morning a friend asked for advice on running a panel. it’s a great question – we’ve all been to some dire ones before, but good ones really stand out.
this is what i replied:
my main advice is to open up space for others to speak. there is nothing worse than a panel where the chair does all the talking. listen and look for non-verbal cues to steer the conversation.
be sure to involve everyone. don’t be afraid to cut in if people are rambling, or dominating proceedings. everyone will thank you for it.
always pass the Bechdel test. if there are no women on the panel, it’s going to be thin gruel. diversity makes for a richer conversation. if you’re moderating make sure the organisers have thought of this important issue. if you’re in the UK here is a great list from Techworld of smart women from all tech fields that you could invite to participate. there are many similar lists out there. google is your friend.
some tension is good, obviously, nobody wants a panel where everyone is just nodding along sagely and agreeing with each other. think about that when curating the panel. a range of opinions and technical backgrounds will add to the conversation.
breathe, smile and enjoy yourself. then everyone else likely will too.
the audience is your friend. always involve them. ask for shows of hands. ask for questions. there is generally as much expertise, opinion and humour in the audience as there is on the stage.
at my conference Monki Gras this year we had a panel on open source governance, which I think went ok. we cut it into 4 parts. check it out