Panel Discussion Formats: 27 Ideas to Spark Your Creativity! (2023)

One of the most important tasks for a meeting organizer and panel moderator to do is to create an appropriate structure and panel discussion formats. What’s the difference? Consider the structure to be the essential framework of the panel discussion, (the tasks, the flow, and the timing) whereas theformat gives it the shape, color, life, and energy.

Formats come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – the creativity is boundless! However, there are generally five types of formats that I have seen in the in-person and virtual world:

  • Traditional Structured Formats
  • Popular TV Show or Movie Formats
  • Event Theme and/or Location Formats
  • Room Set Formats
  • Segment-Driven Activities

So let’s take a closer look at these popular panel discussion formats: when and why they might be a good fit. And if I have written up an example, I have also included a hyperlink to that format:

Structured Panel Discussion Formats

Consider these traditional formats to be the essential framework around many of the other formats:

1. Mainstage Style. A hard-hitting, short-duration panel discussion with panel members, typically the keynoter, main stage presenters, or invited panelists. There is no audience question and answer session (Q&A).

2. Q&A Style.A short introduction of the topic and panelists with moderator-curated questions, followed by audience Q&A.

3. Initial Remarks Style.A short introduction of the topic with each panelist taking time to introduce themselves and their perspectives on the topic. Then moderator-curated questions followed by audience Q&A.

(Video) A powerful way to unleash your natural creativity | Tim Harford

4. Presentation Style.A short introduction of the topic and panelists with each panelist presenting their perspectives on the topic, followed by audience Q&A.

Riff a Popular TV Show or Movie

My absolute number one favorite format is to leverage a popular TV show. After all, popular TV shows have cracked the code on how to make 30-60 minutes interesting.

5. Talk Show Formats. The easiest format to mimic is the TV talk show (daytime and late night!). It has a host/moderator and guests/panelists who have interesting conversations! Think Oprah, The View, David Letterman.

6. Debate Formats. When there are two or more distinct or polarized viewpoints, (political or otherwise), consider aclassic debate format. Think of the TV show Crossfire and create a panel using the same format.

7. Hot Seat Formats. A panel of experts provides feedback to a willing audience member who presents an idea. Think American Idol, X-Factor, or The Voice.

8. Café Style Formats. Often called a “fireside chat” (but that is an informal interview and not a panel), I prefer the term “Café Style” for an informal chat between colleagues. Think Friends, Cheers, or any other show that is basically held in one location with the cast of characters coming in and out.

9. Game Show Formats. Great for more lighthearted topics. You can also use game show techniques and sprinkle them into the structure of the panel.For example, you can Spin the Wheel to determine who gets to answer then next question or what IS the next question.

10. Popular Movie Formats. If there is a movie that everyone is talking about, integrate some of the elements from the movie into the panel. For example, a colleague moderated a panel discussion that used the movie Forrest Gump to inspire creativity – complete with costumesand peas and carrots!)

11. Pitch Panels. Similar to a Hot Seat Format, but the willing audience member is pitching their idea to the panelists looking for more than just feedback! Think Shark Tank.

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Event Theme Panel Discussion Formats

These formats are inspired by the event theme, the panel topic, or even the event location. Just brainstorm the different elements and integrate what feels right into the panel discussion. Use this checklist to inspire your creativity!

12. Themed Formats. Take the theme of the event and get creative! Programmatic Punch leveraged the word “Punch” into a boxing format!,

13. Topical Formats. Perhaps the topic itself inspires a bit of creativity. In this example, the topic was “the hero’s journey, which lead to a rap song, which led to a format inspired by Dr. Seuss.

14. Location Formats. Panel in Hawaii? That’s an easy one. Everyone wears a Hawaiian shirt. You get the idea.

Room Set Panel Discussion Formats

Sometimes, the way the room is set can inspire a creative format.

15. Fishbowl Format (also called Panel in the Round) where panelists sit in a circle in the center of the room and the audience sits around the stage.

16. SME Format where each of the four panelists sits in one of the four corners of the room and interview the mainstage speaker(s).

17. Musical Chair Format similar to the game you played as a child. Start the first segment with three of the seven panelists sitting on the three chairs on the stage. Then play the music! The seven panelists scramble and when the music stops, only three can sit down to participate in the next segment.

18. Empty Chair Format is perfect for when you want to encourage deep dialogue that extends out into the audience. Simply add one extra chair for your panel to allow an audience member to rotate in and out of the panel.

(Video) Creative Spark Big Idea Challenge tutorial video

Audience-Driven Panel Discussion Formats

When the audience has lots of questions to ask, let the audience drive the conversation! You can gather the questions ahead of time or in real-time during the panel.

19. Screened Question Format. Have the audience submit their questions via question cards, texts, tweets, or using the meeting app.

20. Capture the Question Format. Have small groups discuss what questions they would like to ask, and then start with one table’s question, answer it, then have that table select the next table to ask the next question.

21. Crowdsourced Question Format. Let the audience submit their questions using a tool such as Slido and let them “like” their favorite questions. Then just start at the top and move your way down the list!

Segment-Driven Activities

Panel Discussion Formats: 27 Ideas to Spark Your Creativity! (2)

Finally, I look at each “segment” or “chunk” of time within a panel discussion to contain it’s own little format or activity. [Spoiler: To make your life easier, I wrote a book on 123 different ideas you can choose from!] Make sure that they are tied to the topic (vs some gratuitous game!), will resonate with the audience, and be congruent with the topic. (You don’t want to do a funNewlywed Game if you’re talking about how to ban bullying from schools. That’s just a rude mismatch.)

22. The Newlywed Game is my fan favorite. The panelists AND audience are asked a question and the panelists write their one-word answer on a whiteboard. They turn them around at the same time. Laughter and interesting conversation ensue!

23. Progressive Answers where one panelist starts to answer the question and the moderator calls it to shift to the next panelist.

(Video) SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY | Honest Designers Podcast Episode 122

24. Rapid-Fire Panelist Polling where the moderator rattles through several quick answer questions with the panelists.

25. Agree/Disagree Game where you poll the panelists to show their stance using paddles or colored cards.

26. Lightning Round where The moderator asks the panelists a summarizing question and each panelist answers quickly and concisely.

27. Finally, there is the UnPanel Format where there IS no moderator facilitating the panel discussion.

So that’s 27 different panel discussion formats – and there’s more where that came from in my book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion.

The point is to be creative. Don’t just show up and do the expected: the boring, traditional panel. Spice it up. Add pizazz. Make ’em want to lean in to every minute of the panel discussion!

Related Articles:

How to Structure a Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion Formats: Take a Lesson from TV

Panel Formats of the Past and Improvements of Today

(Video) How to Spark Creativity, Collaboration and Innovation

Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator and high stakes meeting facilitator, shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more panel discussion formats like this, check out her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion. or dive into the Powerful Panels Knowledge Vault to access EVERYTHING you need to know about panel discussions!

Photo source


How do you answer a panel discussion? ›

Instead, while answering try to maintain a neutral stance and make eye contact with everyone during the panel discussion. Here's what you can do. Begin answering the question by looking at the person who asked. Then slowly as you explain, turn and look at everyone squarely, even if one of them looks down to take notes.

What is the format of panel discussion? ›

The panel discussion format is usually the same: a few subject matter experts gather on stage or in front of the camera to discuss a specific topic and offer differing perspectives. The panellists share facts or personal experiences, express opinions, and answer audience questions.

What are good topics for a panel discussion? ›

If you are looking for some easy topics for group discussion, here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Favorite Online Resources.
  • Thoughts On The Internet.
  • The Impact of Social Media On Our Lives.
  • The Pros and Cons of Technology.
  • The Changing Landscape of Education.
  • The Importance of Connection.
16 Aug 2022

How can I make my panel discussion more interesting? ›

Engage the audience early.

Create a catchy title for the event, and make sure the topic is trendy and fun. Create a buzz, even before the event. Use email marketing or social media to ask attendees to submit three questions they would like to hear discussed.

How do you introduce yourself in a panel discussion? ›

How to introduce yourself on a conference panel
  1. Keep it short.
  2. Use big bold ideas.
  3. Name-check yourself.
  4. Speak out to the audience.
  5. Show energy & enthusiasm.
  6. Practise.
1 Nov 2017

What is the main purpose of panel discussion? ›

What is the main purpose of a panel discussion? Panel discussion gives experts and thought leaders the opportunity to express their opinions, challenge each other, and explore topics of discussion that provide value, insight, and entertainment for the watching audience.

What is panel discussion in simple words? ›

A panel discussion, or simply a panel, involves a group of people gathered to discuss a topic in front of an audience, typically at scientific, business, or academic conferences, fan conventions, and on television shows.

How do I prepare for an online panel discussion? ›

More videos on YouTube
  1. 1 Prepare. ...
  2. 2 Know your platform. ...
  3. 3 Select, invite, and confirm interesting panelists. ...
  4. 4 Craft great questions. ...
  5. 5 Select the Q&A format. ...
  6. 6 Practice. ...
  7. 7 Start strong. ...
  8. 8 Keep the conversation moving.

How can I be a good panelist in a panel discussion? ›

11 Things a Panelist Should Do During a Panel Discussion
  1. Serve the Audience. The audience paid good money (at the very least invested their time) to be there. ...
  2. Check-In with the Moderator. ...
  3. Be Prepared. ...
  4. Be Timely. ...
  5. Follow the Moderator's Lead. ...
  6. Be Honest. ...
  7. Use the Microphone. ...
  8. Tag On.

What is the first step in conducting a panel discussion? ›

How to conduct a successful panel discussion
  1. Select a thought-provoking topic. ...
  2. Choose your skillful moderator. ...
  3. Pick out your panelists. ...
  4. Introduce the moderator to the panelists. ...
  5. Prep the questions and prompts. ...
  6. Set up the room properly.
27 Sept 2019

How do you introduce yourself as a panel moderator? ›

As moderator, you'll introduce the topic within the first few minutes. Start with a short, interesting hook to grab everyone's attention, then share something about yourself and explain how you will introduce the panelists and facilitate the session.

How do you summarize a panel discussion? ›

Take a look at your notes and transition statements to summarize the discussion.
You can also ask the panelists to summarize the session by asking for:
  1. One Final Thought. Offer each panelist a last opportunity to share a key point, what the panelist is taking away from the conversation.
  2. The One Thing. ...
  3. Future-Forward.

› panel-discussion ›

Panel discussions are one of the best session formats to use for an engaging conference or event! Read up on our top 6 tips to help you succeed!
Panel discussions are a classic format that are extremely value-rich. Gathering a group of guest speakers to speak, converse, and reflect on a specific topic is...
While every panel discussion is designed to be a learning experience, the most important thing you can do is organize it properly ahead of time.

What do you say after a panel discussion? ›

It was an honor to have you on the panel. We know your time is precious and we are immensely grateful you were able to carve out some time with us. Thank you for helping make this [event] a great success and we look forward to [working with you/seeing you] at future events.

What is panel discussion with example? ›

An example of a panel discussion is when a group of local politicians hold an open discussion and invite the public to come with questions or concerns. noun. 6. A conversation about a specific topic conducted by a group of experts, usually either in the presence of an audience or in a broadcast (both).

How do you say hello in a panel interview? ›

Greeting an interview panel

Greet everyone. Example: "Hello, Mrs. Young, it's nice to meet you." Try to recall as many names as possible if there are no nameplates in front of them; you will need to use them when you address them later.

What should you not do in a panel discussion? ›

11 Things a Panelist Should NOT Do During a Panel Discussion
  • Don't Wing It. You have to do more than just show up. ...
  • Don't Be Boring. ...
  • Don't Bluster. ...
  • Don't Get Huffy. ...
  • Don't Use Slides. ...
  • Don't Shamelessly Self-Promote. ...
  • Don't Be a Contrarian. ...
  • Don't Think No One is Looking.


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