Why do we have panels and webinars that are 1 hour with 6 speakers and think there will be time for questions?
Why not call it a lecture and drop the pretence of a discussion or Q&A? When the webinar or panel is structured in this way, it is clear you don’t want a discussion.
Let’s be honest, call it what it is. If we do, we reduce anxiety of the facilitator, the panelists, and the audience. We stop apologising for ‘running out of time’. We stop trying to squeeze in a question in the last 60 seconds so we can feel like we had a Q&A.
We could do something different.
We could make them longer, we could be ruthless about timekeeping, we could have less panelists. But that all feels like more of the same.
Perhaps it’s time to ask what is your goal. Is it providing a platform to elevate the voices of a select few? Or is it engagement? Discussion? Debate?
If it’s debate, you should have people with opposing views on your panel. And ideally everyone involved is interested in learning not point scoring. Leave the point scoring to the political TV debates. Since you are organising it, seek out people with opinions, but are also learners who hold their ideas on open palms, not closed fists.
If it’s a discussion, you need to decide what type of discussion you want. It could be about a current issue/topic, an article, a video. Share the topic, article, video to the audience beforehand. But also decide if you need panelists or you want a group discussion. If you choose ‘both’ then leave 70% of the webinar time for group discussion, make sure your panelists are provocative, and be ruthless about timekeeping. Also, prime the question pump by getting people to have questions. Call on women first as evidence shows that when we do, more women feel willing to speak out. Same goes for minority groups on the webinar.
In the end, it’s a choice. Do you want engagement or a lecture? Lectures are easy. All you need to do a lecture is a recording device and a distribution channel. And if you are reading this, you have both. Engagement. Well, engagement is completely different. Engagement requires enrolment. And enrolment is scarce.
Enrolment is about ‘seeing’ the other. It’s about active participation in the other’s lives or work. Enrolment is about having a stake in the outcome. It requires us to get off the bench and enter the game. Enrolment is where the learning happens. It’s where theory, ideas, become alive, become lived out.
And yes, enrolment is scary because ‘this might not work’. But enrolment is the only way anything starts to work.
Lectures have their place, but enrolment is where the change happens.