Author's note: This is the second in a series of three posts reflecting on BlogWorld 2010, where I was a presenter and an attendee. You can read the first post here.
If there’s one thing you can expect at a conference these days other than awkwardly large nametags and a one-hour wait at Starbucks, it’s this: a legion of panel presentations.
I’ve attended them, sat on them, moderated them, and earnestly enjoyed quite a few. But it was at this year’s BlogWorld that I decided the panel must die so the presentation can live.
I blame Nancy Duarte. Her fantastic new book, Resonante, is dedicated to the simple premise that great presentations create a powerful bond between the speaker and audience — and then use that bond to change how they see the world around them.
“You have to set a course, and that means developing the right content. The destination you define can serve as a guide. Every bit of content you share should propel the audience toward that destination. Keep in mind that a presentation is designed to transport the audience from one location to another.”
That’s a tall order, I know, but it’s one that the very nature of panel presentations makes impossible to achieve.
Think for a moment about TED, the inspiring lecture series whose videos have been passed around by millions of passionate viewers. Think of the TED videos you’ve watched, posted on your blog or sent to your friends and colleagues.
How many were panels?
Here’s the problem: Watching a panel presentation is like eating appetizers for dinner. It does the trick, but not in a truly satisfying way.
Now let me stop briefly to say that I’ve seen some really incredible panels lately, and I'd never want to see them abolished altogether. Many left me feeling educated, inspired or motivated. But they all left me wanting more.
I also understand the financial allure of panels. In a tight conference timeline, it’s a great way to pack in lots of talent and diverse opinions. And panelists are less likely to demand hefty speaker fees than highly skilled presenters. But is the resulting value really worth the efficiency?
Great moderators and outgoing panelists can definitely help make up for the shortcomings of the panel format. At BlogWorld, one of the most well-received presentations was a panel on Digital Crisis Communication, featuring Ford’s Scott Monty alongside fellow PR veterans Dallas Lawrence and Shel Holtz and moderated by the infinitely likable Valeria Maltoni.
However, I believe this panel worked in spite of its format, not because of it. With all the panelists essentially in agreement, any one of them could have presented compellingly on the topic absolutely solo — giving them time to feature case studies and real-world takeaways in depth.
Ditching panels would be a tremendous sacrifice for event planners. It shortens your speaker list (always a major draw for the pricier conferences) and reduces the number of influential luminaries who could be tweeting and blogging about their upcoming presentation at your event.
But I’d argue that panels should at least become the exception instead of the norm. In the long run, I believe it’s a shift that would leave audiences feeling more inspired by the topics being presented — and more inspired to tell their friends when tickets go on sale next year.
David Griner is a social media strategist for Luckie and Company and contributing editor for Adweek’s blog, AdFreak.com. You can reach him by e-mail or on Twitter.
Photo credit: Grant Hutchinson on Flickr