I really hate panel sessions

I hardly ever go to meetings that promise a panel format. I was recently reminded why.

It seems to me that as humans we are hugely programmed to play together and conversation can be a very satisfying form of play. Somewhere in school or church we all got indoctrinated with the idea that it’s good to sit and just listen to some authority figure going on and on. If we are very lucky, after being bored to death for an indefinite time, we might get to ask a question if we try to be polite and as long as someone else doesn’t leap in first.

I suppose the idea of a panel is to provide more variety than some version of death by powerpoint but I think it can be even worse. Generally the killer-by-powerpoint might experience some motivation to prepare something mildly interesting but panellists usually show up hoping for the best. And the format of being on stage has the impact on most of them of inhibiting the spontaneity that might usually be the byproduct of less preparation.

And in the audience, I think it’s excruciating to have watch other people have the opportunity for the give-and-take conversation that we are naturally hungry to be part of ourselves. It’s bad enough to be hungry, but to hungry and forced to watch others eat, and usually eat carelessly?

Thank heavens that with things like twitter there is at least a backchannel where we can have some kind of interaction. But having gone to the massive trouble of putting human beings in the room, why use a format that so misses out an opportunity for real peer-to-peer engagement?

I suppose when the panel is on TV, at least I feel I can shout at the screen or go make a coffee… but when you’re mired in the audience that’s harder to do.

The other thing I strongly suspect is that a lot of people hate these sessions but feel it’s better to be polite afterwards and claim to have found them interesting. And so we get mired in an endless loop of this dreary format.

1 thought on “I really hate panel sessions

  1. Stuart Bruce

    Wouldn’t go as far as ‘hate’, but I largely agree. And I don’t if it’s just me or if it is part of a wider trend, but I used to get lots of invitations to speak at conferences. I now get far fewer, but lots of invites to participate in panels.

    A panel also makes it far harder for the speaker to prepare properly. You don’t know what the other panelists are going to raise, since you’re all there speaking on the same subject. You therefore have to ‘make it up as you go along’.

    As a speaker my favourite format is where I’m asked to give a short presentation with a decent time left for questions from the audience.


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