Panel Sessions 3.0 for 2023

Photo credit: Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society

For years I’ve been a fan of bringing in more outside voices to make mainstage sessions more valuable and deliver more impact. While keynote speakers can still be a significant attendance driver, I think 2023 is the year to resurrect the industry panel.

What you don’t want to do is go back to the same old playbook — four or five industry experts sitting at an elevated head table. We can and must do better by mixing it up. Next-generation panels will incorporate these design principles:

  1. A skilled moderator who engages the audience as one of the industry experts/panelists.
  2. A commitment from each panel participant that they will share something that they’ve never shared before.
  3. A session design that incorporates bite-sized conversations with engaging transitions and reflection.
  4. Diversity of thought as well as diversity of participants.
  5. Authentic, unscripted conversations.
  6. A stage setup that eliminates barriers between the panel participants and audience.

Three Winning Formats

Here are three formats that incorporate these design principles:

TED Mash-up. Three 15-minute TED presentations from carefully selected industry thought leaders whose content is focused on helping the audience address near-term challenges or opportunities.


  1. Conference organizer provides speaker coaching for effective TED talks.
  2. A skilled facilitator develops and delivers an audience engagement plan after each speaker.
  3. Can be a preview of a spotlight or concurrent session.

Career Journey Mapping. Three or four industry leaders who each took different career pathways. Stories highlighting their unique journey are shared to help the audience develop their own growth plan. (for more guidance on designing the Career Journey Mapping format, read Kristin Arnold’s Powerful Panels post).


  1. Session design has lots of moving parts including rapid-fire segments, audience peer-to-peer discussions, and crowdsourced Q&A.
  2. The audience leaves with a tangible takeaway that they can use for their own professional development.
  3. A graphic illustrator captures the key takeaways to amplify and reinforce the big ideas.

Critical Conversations. A skilled facilitator interviews two thought leaders at a time. This happens in three 15-to-20-minute segments. Each segment features a current significant issue for the profession.


  1. A content weaver organizes and facilitates three mini-panels. Transitions help chunk the experience.
  2. The talk show–like format provides better focus and intimacy for the audience.
  3. Panel diversity is even more critical when done in pairs.
  4. More thought leaders are engaged and put in the spotlight.

What other formats have you used to change up the traditional panel? Are your moderators from industry or professional facilitators?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2022. 

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